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Heat treatment could make chemotherapy more effective

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University College London (UCL) researchers have led the study

Heating up cancer cells while targeting them with chemotherapy is an effective way of killing them, according to a new study led by University College London (UCL) researchers.

The study, published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry B, found that loading a chemotherapy drug on to tiny magnetic particles that can heat up the cancer cells at the same time as delivering the drug to them was up to 34% more effective at destroying the cancer cells than the chemotherapy drug without added heat.

The magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles that carry the chemotherapy drug shed heat when exposed to an alternating magnetic field. This means that, once the nanoparticles have accumulated in the tumour area, an alternating magnetic field can be applied from outside the body, allowing heat and chemotherapy to be delivered simultaneously.

The study was carried out on cells in a lab, with the team saying that further research is needed ahead of clinical trials involving patients.

Senior author Professor Nguyen T. K. Thanh said: “Our study shows the enormous potential of combining chemotherapy with heat treatment delivered via magnetic nanoparticles.

“While this combination of therapy is already approved for the treatment of fast-growing glioblastomas, our results suggest it has potential to be used more widely as a broad anti-cancer therapy.

“This therapy also has potential to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy by ensuring it is more highly targeted on cancer cells rather than healthy tissue. This needs to be explored in further pre-clinical tests.”

The nanoparticles used have a polymer coating that prevents the chemotherapy drug from leaching out into healthy tissue. The coating is heat and pH-sensitive and is designed to release the drug when temperature rises, and the nanoparticles are internalised within tiny pockets in cells called lysosomes.

Researchers received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development, the European Cooperation in Science and Technology, UCL, the University of Bordeaux, and collaborated with Resonant Circuits.

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