Researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are using gallium indium alloy, a liquid metal, to both identify tumors and to ferry doxorubicin, a chemotherapeutic, directly to cancer cells. The gallium indium is mixed with two polymeric ligands in a liquid solution following which ultrasound is used to create tiny liquid metal droplets. The ligands attach to the nanodroplets as they separate from the rest of the liquid metal and oxidization on the surface of the droplets prevents them from fusing with the remaining liquid metal.
One of the ligands sticks to doxorubicin when it’s added to the mixture, and when the droplets are pulled out they come with the drug already attached. The other ligand sticks to cancer cells, automatically bringing doxorubicin precisely to the cancerous target. While the technique uses doxorubicin to attack tumors, it can be used in the same way to seek out and identify the locations of tumors. That’s because metal is easily seen on imaging scans, so as long as large quantities of it end up in the same area that means that’s where the tumor is.