An international team of scientists have designed a new method for magnetically controlling nanoparticles that make cells 'self-destruct'. The team's method involves rotating the nanoparticles above the cells and 'wiggling' the particles inside the cell lysosomes, which break down biomolecules. The method should one day result in non-invasive human cancer treatment which targets cancerous cells and leaves healthy cells unharmed, a vast improvement on current treatment methods like chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Jim Drury reports.
STORY: Scientist Enmin Zhang believes that applying a magnetic field to iron oxide nanoparticles inside tumour cells could one day lead to radical new cancer treatment. The Lund University assistant professor and his team have successfully destroyed cancer cells in laboratory experiments. Once nanoparticles are inside cells, they bind to cell 'sub-units' called lysosomes that clean out cancerous micro-organisms. Physicist Martin Koch, from Lund's partners Elektronic Stetter, has devised a way to make the nanoparticles rotate at will once inside the cell. SOUNDBITE (English) MARTIN KOCH (PRON: KOTCH), HEAD TECHNICIAN, "With these particles I can align the spins, these are quantum mechanical sizes, the spin of electrons. I can align the spins and make with the spins and my field talk, and this talk makes the particles roll." Once the particles roll, the lysosome membrane becomes porous, allowing poisonous enzymes to be released and encouraging a biological chain reaction to destroy neighbouring toxic cells. Previous attempts to use similar nanoparticles involved using the magnetic field to create heat to kill cancer cells. But this can lead to large numbers of healthy cells being damaged, whereas Zhang says his team's method creates no heat at all. He says the method is far superior to traditional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and should deliver fewer side effects. SOUNDBITE (Mandarin) ENMING ZHANG (PRON: JANG), ASSISTANT "We use an external magnetic field to apply control in a very specific manner. This is something that chemotherapy cannot do. It's a controllable treatment process." A prototype device to kill tumours inside a living being is in the process of completion. Once ready, the group's partners at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York will use it for trials on animals. If successful, trials on humans will follow, although lead author Professor Erik Renstrom says this will be some years away. But the scientists are hopeful that their research could one day herald an effective, painless way of treating a variety of cancers.