The researchers of this new method, including Dr Enming Zhang and Professor Eric Renström from Lund University, used nanoparticles of iron oxide that have been treated with a special form of magnetism. Once the particles are inside the cancer cells, the cells are exposed to an external magnetic field, and the nanoparticles begin to rotate in a way that causes the lysosomes to start destroying the cells.
“Our technique is able to attack only the tumor cells,” said Enming Zhang, first author of the study.
The technique is much more targeted and less harmful than trying to kill cancer cells with toxic techniques such as chemotherapy, which damages other cells and radiation, which affects surrounding tissue.
Previous attempts to use superparamagnetic nanoparticles have focused on using the external field to create heat that kills the cancer cells. The problem with this is that the heat can cause inflammation that risks harming surrounding, healthy tissue. The new method, on the other hand, in which the rotation of the magnetic nanoparticles can be controlled, only affects the tumor cells that the nanoparticles have entered.
This technique is primarily intended for cancer treatment, but according to the researchers, it can be used for other diseases, including autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system attacks the body’s own insulin production.
Professor Renström found the time to answer some of DrSocial's questions on the research:
1. What is the stage of development on the rotating nanoparticles' research at the moment?
- Clinical pilot trials are planned in collaboration with our US collaborator Dr Kircher. These early trials will focus on solid superficial tumors.
2. How far in the future do you see this treatment becoming available?
- Time will tell, but if the pilot studies work out well it well become an adjuvant therapy for this particular indication within 4-5 years.
3. Are there open trials for testing on people, or in what time frame would there be such?
- No open trial are planned, and recuitment will be carefully controlled to allow us to draw conclusions as to whether this treatment is superior to existing ones.
4. Is the project funded or in need of funding?
- The clinical part has some funding and we are applying for additional funding for the experimental part. More funding is always welcome!
5. Is the medical research well supported by the Swedish government and private funders?
- Compared to many other countries, we should not complain. However, we typically need co-funding from several different private sources to achieve sufficient means. The Governmental funding is not sufficient.
6. How is this different from other failed cancer-related research attempts in the past and what do you believe would make this one successful?
- This is a new concept that is relatively straightforward. The combination of nanoparticle targeting to specific cells and selective exposure of tissues adds an extra level of safety and reduces the risk of severe adverse effects. At present the limitation is to find ways to target the tumor cells with reasonable specificity.
7. What would you say to people who rely on the success of this research to get healed? Do you find this potential treatment solid enough to get people's hopes up?
- We should always be optimistic, but we also have to be realistic and critically assess any new potential treatment to make sure it is really better than what is already available.
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