The future of cancer treatments involves the targeted delivery of cell-killing mechanisms to cancer cells. As a strategy this offers the potential to minimize side-effects to far below the levels of present day established treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. There are many ways to kill cells while causing minimal effects to surrounding tissues, assuming a selective means of delivery to specific cells, and here researchers improve upon the use of nanoparticles as the mechanism of destruction:
Using magnetically controlled nanoparticles to force tumour cells to 'self-destruct' sounds like science fiction, but could be a future part of cancer treatment. In brief, the technique involves getting the nanoparticles into a tumour cell, where they bind to lysosomes, the units in the cell that perform 'cleaning patrols'. The lysosomes have the ability to break down foreign substances that have entered a cell. They can also break down the entire cell through a process known as 'controlled cell death', a type of destruction where damaged cells dissolve themselves.
The researchers have 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 a magnetic field, and the nanoparticles begin to rotate in a way that causes the lysosomes to start destroying the cells.
The research group [is] not the first to try and treat cancer using supermagnetic nanoparticles. However, previous attempts have focused on using the magnetic 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 tumour cells that the nanoparticles have entered.