Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pittsburgh researchers developing nanomagnetic cancer therapy

August 6, 2008

Imagine nano-sized magnetic particles capable of fabulous feats such as killing cancer cells in the body, regenerating human tissue and skimming toxic oil spills from lakes and rivers.

Image of oil being pulled by a magnet (last frame) courtesy CMU

Carnegie Mellon University researchers, in collaboration with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and UPMC McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine, are working on pioneering research that may one day save human lives and clean up the environment, all with the help of tiny nanomagnets. They are joined by teams in Berlin and John Hopkins University who are also working toward a breakthrough.

Mike McHenry, professor of material science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon, explains that magnetic nanoparticle research has been ongoing for a decade. The most promising application of this phenomenon is for hyperthermic cancer treatments, heating tissues from 42- to 46-degrees Celsius, a process that selectively eradicates cancer cells while allowing healthy tissue to survive.

“This could be a major breakthrough,” says McHenry. “We wouldn’t have to use chemotherapy to treat cancer, or it could be combined with chemotherapy. The idea is it will enable us to discriminate between healthy and cancerous cells and kill the cancer through a radio frequency field.”

Patients who undergo the localized heat therapy would, at most, experience a warm sensation similar to a high fever, McHenry explains. The research is still in its infancy.

Magnetic nanoparticle dynamics may also be used to reshape and regenerate tissue, research that is in the animal clinical trial stage. With the help of MIT, the biotechnology may also serve as a green method to magnetize and move oil spills from large bodies of water.

The research has been primarily funded through the National Science Foundation.

To see the research in action, click here.

Writer: Debra Smit
Source: Dr. Mike McHenry, Carnegie Mellon University