This summer the Department of Defense, which for decades has quietly researched everything from burn treatments to blood preservation, awarded Halas and her colleague Jennifer West, a bioengineer at Rice, $3 million to develop nanoshells as a treatment for breast cancer. Halas says her team hopes to begin preliminary tests next year on patients with soft-tissue tumors, like breast, brain or prostate cancer. If the trials pan out, nanoshells may radically change cancer treatment: Patients could be diagnosed and--for early-stage, contained tumors--treated in the same office visit. "It's revolutionary in detecting cancer very early, possibly six or seven years before other technologies do," says Donna Kimbark, grants manager of the Defense Department's Breast Cancer Research Program. "Most breast-cancer tumors have been there for years before they are detected. Imagine the effect of catching them years earlier."