cancer cells

False color image of cancer cells attached to normal human cells before treatment.

Cancer can be “burned up” with a new technique that uses magnetic pulses to heat tumor cells until they die.  Scientists have found they can surround cancer cells with tiny particles of iron oxide that vibrate when in a magnetic field, causing the cells to heat up.


Tests in mice have shown this can raise the temperature of the tumor cells by six degrees above body temperature, around the point when cancer cells start to die.

The researchers hope that the new technique, known as hyperthermia therapy, will allow them to target cancer cells in the body and kill them without harming the surrounding tossed or causing the side effects of chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy.

They say they can target the iron oxide particles to tumours by putting them inside stem cells from bone marrow that naturally home in on cancer in the body.

Dr Sam Janes, a clinical cancer scientist at University College London, said: “If you heat cancer cells up to 43 degrees C (109.4F) they start to die. Our natural body temperature is 37 degrees C (89.6F). The technique that we are using, we are able to reach that threshold.

“The mesenchymal stem cells seem to seek out cancer and infiltrate the tumour. We are not entirely sure why they do this but these stem cells are thought to be involved in repairing damage in the body, so it could be they are responding to signals coming from the cancer cells.

“By putting iron nanoparticles within the stem cells, we can deliver them to the cancer. Vibrating the iron particles causes them to heat up and we can hopefully kill the cells we deliver along with the cancer surround it.”

Dr Janes has been working with Professor Quentin Pankhurst, director of research at the Royal Institution, to develop the technique. Professor Pankhurst has developed a device that is capable of delivering focused, high frequency magnetic pulses that cause the iron oxide particle to vibrate extremely fast.

They found in the laboratory they are able to heat up cells containing the nanoparticles by around 60 degrees C. In mice with skin cancer they found that vibrating the particles could raise the temperature of the cancer cells by six degrees.

Dr Janes said they hoped to use the technique to develop a new treatment for targeting lung cancer.

He added: “We are still in the early stages but we think this shows a lot of promise.

We are concentrating on getting more of the stem cells into the tumour while also altering the size of the nanoparticles and the frequency at which they are vibrated at to increase the heat.”

The research was presented at the British Thoracic Society’s Winter Meeting on Friday.

Paul Beckett, chair of the BTS’s specialist advisory group on lung cancer, said: “This is an exciting breakthrough in the world of respiratory therapy as we know it.

“This innovative hyperthermia therapy is another step up in helping to improve the outcomes for people with lung disease. It proves how important it is to continue to invest in research and development of lung diseases.”

Via Telegraph