Heating up cancer research

By • Published: February 24th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Scientists have been trying to put the heat on cancer since Hippocrates practiced medicine.

Unfortunately, most techniques scientists have studied to superheat cancer cells do too much damage to be practical.

But now, Virginia Tech engineering researchers may have found a way to give tumors a fatal fever while keeping the surrounding tissue more comfortably cool.

They’ve used the technique in cell cultures and animal models.

Here’s how it would work in people.

A liquid full of nanoparticles called ferrofluid would be intravenously given to a cancer patient.

Note “ferro,” from the Latin “ferrum,” which means “iron.”

The particles are highly responsive to magnetic fields.

When doctors project a magnetic field onto the tumor, the nanoparticles … each one smaller than a billionth of a meter … are actually drawn into the cancerous tissue by magnetic attraction.

Now it gets exciting.

By rapidly alternating the polarity of the magnetic field, the nanoparticles start spinning. The cancer heats up like water in a microwave.

When this happens, scientists have essentially given the tumor a fever that can go as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

The magnetic movement is kept up for about thirty minutes. Scientists believe the higher temperature is enough to slow or halt the growth of the cancer. The key is keeping the surrounding cells cooler than 104 degrees.

Far more research is needed into whether the treatment would be safe for people. Scientists want to do more experiments using the technique against different types of cancer cells in cultures.

They call the process magnetic fluid hyperthermia, which they have further nicknamed “thermotherapy.”

“Healing hot nanoparticles” must have been taken.