Tiny magnets may help win the war on cancer

Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Tiny magnets could soon be used to help kill cancer cells in humans. Nano-magnets, as they are known, are so small that thousands can fit on a pinhead.

So far, the only experiments have been on animals, but researchers believe they are only a year or two away from starting human trials.

The magnets are injected in a drug containing human white blood cells. This drug combination hunts cancerous cells and destroys them.

Doctors use an external magnet to help draw the drug more effectively into the tumour.

The new technique has been developed by a team of scientists working at three British universities — Nottingham, Sheffield and Keele.

Cancer specialists hope magnets will be a breakthrough to an effective gene therapy treatment. So far this has eluded them as they have been unable to get enough of the gene therapy into the tumour.

Gene therapy is described as targeted treatment for cancer because it destroys only the tumour.

Traditional chemotherapy — still the mainstay of cancer treatment — uses a poisonous chemical to kill the cancer through an infusion into the bloodstream. But healthy cells as well as cancer cells are destroyed causing side effects.

“Using human cells as delivery vehicles for anti-cancer gene therapy has long been an attractive approach for treating tumours, but these cells usually reach tumours in insufficient numbers to attack them effectively,” says Professor Claire Lewis of Sheffield University, who is one of the lead researchers.

“We are not clear why this is but the use of magnets appears to overcome this problem and make the treatment more effective.”
The News, 9/7/2008

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