Scientists discover a way to target & destroy cancer cells: Here's how the ground-breaking therapy works

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Feb 03, 2022, 03:19 PM IST

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This therapy, which was shown to work in mice, is called 'minimally invasive image-guided ablation' or MINIMA

The world is bringing in new solutions and treatments for deadly diseases every day and Cancer, undoubtedly, is one of the deadliest diseases. 

Scientists at UCL have created a breakthrough cancer therapy that guides magnetic seeds inside the brain to heat up and destroy tumours using an MRI scanner.

The study has been published in the journal 'Advanced Science`'

This therapy, which was shown to work in mice, is called "minimally invasive image-guided ablation" or MINIMA. It includes a ferromagnetic thermoseed that is navigated to a tumour using magnetic propulsion gradients generated by an MRI scanner, before being heated remotely to kill cancer cells nearby.

The findings are a "proof-of-concept" for precise and effective treatment of hard-to-reach cancers such as glioblastoma, along with other cancers such as prostate that would benefit from less invasive treatment.

Senior author, Professor Mark Lythgoe (UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging) said: "MINIMA is a new MRI-guided therapy that has the potential to avoid traditional side effects by precisely treating the tumour without harming healthy tissues. Because the heating seed is magnetic, the magnetic fields in the MRI scanner can be used to remotely steer the seed through tissue to the tumour. Once at the tumour, the seed can then be heated, destroying the cancer cells, while causing limited damage to surrounding healthy tissues."

In their study, the UCL team demonstrated the three key elements of MINIMA to a high degree of accuracy: precise seed imaging; navigation of brain tissue using a tailored MRI system; and eradication of a tumour by heating it in a mouse model.

Magnetic thermoseeds are round with a diameter of 2 millimeters; made of metal alloy, and are implanted superficially before they are navigated to the tumour.

Lead author, Rebecca Baker, (UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging) said: "Using an MRI scanner to deliver a therapy in this way allows the therapeutic seed and the tumour to be imaged throughout the procedure, ensuring the treatment is delivered with precision and without having to perform open surgery. This could be beneficial to patients by reducing recovery times and minimising the chance of side effects."

Around the world, MRI scanners are commonly available in hospitals for the diagnosis of diseases like cancer. Researchers at UCL demonstrated that MINIMA has the potential to elevate MRI scanners from diagnostic devices to therapeutic platforms.

Professor Lythgoe added: "We are now able to image and navigate a thermoseed in real-time through the brain using an MRI scanner. As MRI is already used to detect the boundaries of cancers, the seed can be moved precisely to ensure it does not stray into surrounding healthy tissue. As the seed is guided through the tissue it can be heated to destroy the cancer. This combines therapy and diagnosis into a single device, creating a completely new class of imaging therapy."

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Co-author Dr Lewis Thorne, a consultant neurosurgeon at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, said: "I treat patients with the most common form of brain cancer, glioblastoma. Following surgery, the average survival time is 12-18 months. MINIMA can successfully destroy cancer in a mouse and has the potential to extend survival and limit damage to adjacent brain tissues in patients."

Professor Mark Emberton (UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science), lead cancer clinician in the study, said: "Improving the precision of our cancer treatments is arguably one of the greatest unmet needs we have today."

Prostate cancer is diagnosed in one out of eight men. Incontinence and impotence are two of the debilitating side effects commonly associated with treatments such as radiotherapy and surgery.

By targeting and destroying prostate tumour tissue precisely, MINIMA may reduce damage to normal cells.

"In the longer term", Professor Lythgoe added, "we will change the shape of the seed to act as a tiny cutting scalpel that could be guided through tissue, which would allow surgeons to perform remotely controlled operations, revolutionising non-invasive surgery." 

(With inputs from agencies)