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A nanoscale drug-delivery system is being tested at Singapore General Hospital. The technology is being used to help treat cancer by carrying the treatment directly to the tumour site.

The device, developed by biotech company pSivida, is based on a material they call BioSilicon. This is cheap, safe and biodegradable, the firm says.

As spokesman for QinetiQ, one of pSivida's investment partners, said that the new material was highly adaptable and had broad applications. "Silicon, when reduced to the nanoscale (less than one thousand millionth of a metre) becomes biodegradable and dissolves into the body as silicic acid," he explained.

The key to its function is the porous nature of silicon at such small scales, the BBC reports. Gaps, typically around 10 atoms across, can be filled with various substances including drugs, peptides, proteins and genes. The difference between this and other time-release medication, the researchers say, is that the release rate can be controlled thanks to silicon's conductivity.

So far the lab trials have been going well, the company says, and the testing on liver tumour patients should provide results by the Autumn of this year. ®

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