An iron-centered nanoparticle (left) has a coating of the sugar dextran, whose tendrils prevent groups of the particles from clumping. When tumor cells ingest them (right), the particles still congregate closely enough to share heat, killing the cells. White arrow indicates a red blood cell (Image: NIST)
Researchers believe nanoparticles hold the promise of battling cancer without the damaging side effects of chemotherapy or radiation treatment. They have discovered that coating minuscule balls of iron oxide with sugar molecules not only makes them particularly attractive to resource-hungry cancer cells, it also makes them more effective by allowing them to get close to each other, but not too close to render treatment ineffective.