MRS Bulletin

Technical Feature

Technical Feature

Nanofunctional Materials in Cancer Research: Challenges, Novel Methods, and Emerging Applications

Larry A. Nagahara, Mauro Ferrari and Piotr Grodzinski


Despite recent progress in the treatment of cancer, far too many cases are still diagnosed only after tumors have metastasized. As a result, patients with cancer face a grim prognosis and often need to endure toxic and uncomfortable whole-body chemotherapy and/or other radiation treatments with the hope that their cancers will be eliminated. If the disease can be detected early enough, statistics have shown that the burden of cancer is drastically reduced. Nanotechnology applied to cancer, by way of nanofunctional materials, is in a unique position to significantly transform the way the disease is diagnosed, imaged, and treated and is the focus of this issue of MRS Bulletin. Materials research in nanotechnology is already successfully implemented in several applications. For instance, photocatalysis using TiO2 nanoparticles is becoming the dominant method for the “self-cleaning” of material surfaces such as glass, ceramics, and fabrics. The nanomaterial carbon nanotubes is a promising candidate in sensor technology and field-emission technology. Our goal is to illustrate the promising new methods being developed in the research community and the challenges that need to be overcome in order to reach clinical utility. More importantly, we hope this issue helps educate and invoke the materials science community to tackle some of the hard issues in diagnosing and treating this disease.

Larry Nagahara, Guest Editor for this issue of MRS Bulletin, can be reached at the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892–2580, USA; tel. 301–496–1550; and e-mail:

Nagahara is a program director for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Physical Sciences in Oncology Program and a nanotechnology projects manager for the Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. He also currently represents NCI on the Trans-NIH Nano Task Force and is an adjunct professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Arizona State University. Nagahara received his BS degree in physics from the University of California, Davis, and a PhD in physics from Arizona State University. He was a postdoctorate fellow at the University of Tokyo, Japan, and later joined the faculty of engineering as an assistant professor. Nagahara has been involved in nanotechnology for more than 15 years, most notably novel scanning probe microscopy development, carbon nano tube applications, molecular electronics, nanoenergy, and nanosensors. He is an associate editor of the IEEE Sensors Journal and is on the editorial board of the International Journal of Green Nanotechnology: Materials Science and Engineering. Nagahara has published more than 80 technical papers, three book chapters, and one book pending, as well as more than 15 patents issued/filed in the field of nanotechnology. He is an American Physical Society Fellow and a Nano 50 Award recipient.

Mauro Ferrari, Guest Editor for this issue of MRS Bulletin, can be reached at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX 77031, USA; tel. 713–500–2470; and e-mail:

Ferrari is a professor and director of the Division of NanoMedicine and deputy chair of the University of Texas (UT) Department of Biomedical Engineering at the UT Health Science Center at Houston. Ferrari also is a professor of experimental therapeutics at the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, a professor of bioengineering at Rice University, and president of Alliance for NanoHealth. He earned his PhD is mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1989. His focus is on the development, refinement, and application of biomedical nanotechnology. He has published more than 200 peer-reviewed articles and has more than 30 U.S. and international patents. Ferrari currently serves as the editor for Biomedical Microdevices: BioMEMS and Biomedical Nanotechnology.

Piotr Grodzinski, Guest Editor for this issue of MRS Bulletin, can be reached at the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD 20892–2580, USA; tel. 301–496–1550; and e-mail:

Grodzinski is a director of the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. Grodzinski received his PhD degree in materials science from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 1992. In the mid-1990s, he left semiconductor research and built a microfluidics program at Motorola Corporate R&D in Arizona. The group made contributions to the development of integrated microfluidics for genetic sample preparation. After his tenure at Motorola, Grodzinski joined the Bioscience Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he served as a group leader and an interim chief scientist for the Department of Energy Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies. In his current capacity at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Grodzinski coordinates program and research activities of the Alliance. In addition, he co-chairs the Trans-NIH Nanotechnology Task Force. Grodzinski is an inventor on 15 patents and has published 47 peer-reviewed papers, seven book chapters, and delivered more than 100 invited conference presentations. He also has been an invited speaker and served on the committees of numerous bio- and nano-microelectromechanical system conferences.