The UNM Cancer Center and Sandia National Laboratories have taken one small step in the fight against cancer — a very, very small step.

The National Cancer Center awarded the UNM Cancer Center $4 million in grants in September to use nanotechnology, a type of engineering that deals with things smaller than 100 nanometers, for cancer research. UNM designated nearly 4,500 square feet of the Centennial Engineering Building to be the Nanotechnology Training Center’s home.

Abhaya Datye, the director of the Nanoscience and Microsystems program, said he’s developed the nanotechnology program for five years.

“I wanted to create a boot camp for engineers and bio-researchers to work on cancer research.” he said. “I want to enlist the most curious students who want to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.”

The UNM cancer center is the only cancer center in the country to receive two grants for nanotechnology.

Datye said Nanoscience and Microsystems program brings students from various areas of study together to solve problems.

“The fact that the program is interdisciplinary is what makes it such an asset to solving cancer problems,” he said. “Problems are easier solved by more than one solution.”

Datye said an electrical engineer came to work with the program and collaborated with researchers on a groundbreaking discovery. He said they found a method for detecting skin cancer using the same sensor technology found in night-vision cameras.

“All engineering, math and most science students can work in the interdisciplinary program, using not just the tools in one science, but in all,” he said.

Ph.D. Student Carlee Ashley was the first student in the Nanoscience and Microsystems program. As a student, she developed a nano cell that attaches to cancer cells and, because of its size, can deliver high levels of medication to the cancer cells. Ashley was awarded Sandia Labs Truman Fellowship for her work, and she continues her work as a researcher with Sandia Labs.

“These interdisciplinary training programs are really the future and the backbone of medical research,” she said.