Scientists at Cornell University in the US have claimed to have synthesised nanoparticles that can identify, target and kill specific cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

The nanoparticles, made of gold between two pieces of iron oxide and shaped like a dumbbell, are attached to antibodies that target a molecule found only in colorectal cancer cells.

Once bound, the nanoparticles are engulfed by the cancer cells, after which scientists use a near-infrared laser at a wavelength that doesn’t harm normal tissue, but is absorbed by the gold in the nanoparticles, causing the cancer cells to heat up and die.

The research team led by Liberty Hyde Bailey professor of food science Carl Batt is now preparing the technology for human clinical trials and also working on a similar experiment targeting prostate cancer cells.

The research work was funded by university partners the Sloan Foundation and the Ludwig Institute For Cancer Research.