Doctors could one day eradicate cancer cells by frying them, according to new research by the University at Buffalo.
Lead by Dr Hao Zeng, the University's professor of physics in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, the research - published in the journal Small - claims a technology called "heated magnetic nanoparticles" could be used to kill tumours without harming healthy tissue elsewhere in the body.
The scientists would do this by developing nanoparticles that can zap tumours with significant amounts of heat under a low magnetic field.
"The main accomplishment of our work is the greatly enhanced heating performance of nanoparticles under low-field conditions suitable for clinical applications.
"The best heating power we obtained is close to the theoretical limit, greatly surpassing some of the best-performing particles that other research teams have produced," said Zeng.
In real life, the therapy would work by doctors using targeting technologies to direct nanoparticles to tumours in patients' bodies.
Then, exposure to an alternating magnetic field would prompt the particles' magnetic orientation to flip back and forth hundreds of thousands of times per second. This process would cause the particles to warm up as they absorbed energy from the electromagnetic field and converted it into thermal energy in the targeted regions.
While this type of cancer treatment (called magnetic nanoparticle hyperthermia) isn't new, Zeng and colleagues designed new magnetic nanoparticles that get hotter and generate heat a few times faster than some of the highest-performing magnetic nanoparticles studied under low-field conditions, he said.
"Within the body, heat energy is continuously carried away - for example, by blood flow - making it difficult to reach the required temperature to kill cancer cells," Zeng said.
He continued: "One needs particles with the highest heating power possible. Our particles have demonstrated impressive heating power even at low magnetic field amplitude and frequency deemed safe for human body."
He continued that the therapy has a number of potential benefits over other treatment routes. It's minimally invasive, and is not expected to generate the type of severe side effects often associated with chemotherapy and radiation, he says.
"The treatment will only heat up the region where nanoparticles are without affecting healthy tissues that are further away, so we anticipate few side effects," added Zeng.
"In addition, the magnetic field that's used to excite the particles can penetrate deep into the body from an instrument that does not require any contact or insertion of probes. As such, the therapy can reach parts of the body that are not easily accessible to surgery."
Bone cancer treatment could be one early application for the heated magnetic nanoparticles approach.
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