A growing field called nanotechnology is allowing researchers to manipulate molecules and structures much smaller than a single cell to enhance our ability to see, monitor and destroy cancer cells in the body.

“Nanotechnology offers an exquisite sensitivity and precision that is difficult to match with any other technology,” said Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD, professor and chair of radiology at the School of Medicine. “Within the next decade, nanomedicine will change the path of cancer diagnosis and treatment in this country.”

The field has some big backers: The National Cancer Institute now spends about $150 million each year on nanotechnology research and training to combat the disease; other institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health spend an additional $300 million on nanotechnology research for cancer and other disorders. And a national alliance created by the NCI in 2004 to bring together researchers from biology to computer science to chemistry to engineering is now bearing fruit—in the form of dozens of clinical trials—at campuses and companies across the country, including Stanford.