Heating up cancer research

UofSC team develops new method to kill cancer cells, prevent them from reoccurring

Researchers with the University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing have created a new way to destroy cancer cells in two days.

The research team — made up of electrical engineering professor Seongtae Bae, postdoc fellow Jung-tak Jang and undergrad (Eric) Sang Hoon Ju — uses a nanomaterial and an alternating current (AC) magnetic field generator to super heat the cells.

Their research breakthrough was recently highlighted in academic journals Advanced Materials and Advanced Science News.

Thermal cancer therapy, also known as magnetic nanofluid hyperthermia, is a treatment that inserts magnetic nanoparticles or nanofluids into cancer cells and applies an external AC magnetic field.

The heat created from magnetic nanoparticles kills the cancer cells quickly and prevents them from reoccurring. The treatment targets particular cancer cells, leaving normal cells alone while minimizining the negative side effects such as mutation or transformation of normal cells or DNA.

“Working to improve cancer treatment is very fulfilling because this research will change lives,” Bae says. “This cancer treatment can extend a patient’s life for up to four months beyond conventional treatments.”

Currently, the main drawback to thermal cancer treatment is the low amount of heat the original magnetic nanoparticles release and toxicity. For example, conventional magnetic nanoparticles such as Feridex or Combidex, which are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, have low heat generation and require a heavy dose of nanoparticles to destroy cancer cells. These nanoparticles require a higher magnetic field, measured in frequency or kilohertz (KHz), to create the heat needed to kill the cancer cells. That frequency — greater than 500 KHz — is biologically harmful to the human body. But the nanoparticles developed by Bae's team are in the 120 KHz range, which is safe for the human body.

The nanomaterial the group is working with has the same components as iron oxide, a common rust that the FDA approved for medical use. This new material generates heat much better than iron oxide and has thermal efficiency 100 times greater. The particle can reach temperatures as high as 122 F (50 C), the prime temperature to kill cancer cells inside a living organism.

Working to improve cancer treatment is very fulfilling because this research will change lives.

Seongtae Bae, assistant professor of electrical engineering

Conventional cancer treatment consists of a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, which have varying degrees of success depending on the location and type of cancer and patients' ability to withstand the treatment. The researchers hope their treatment will prove more efficient at targeting the cancer cells while being less toxic for patients' normal cells.

The use of magnetic nanoparticles has implications for treating other conditions as well. For example, this type of treatment can be applied to glaucoma, a degenerative eye disease. When pressure inside the eye causes damage, the optic nerve can be healed by using heat shock proteins induced by magnetic nanoparticles. In addition, any diseases or syndromes caused by cranial nerve injury — such as dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s — can be treated with magnetic nanoparticles.

“We have reached the limit with current medicines to cure evolving diseases,” Bae says. “We need to combine different fields of study to create new treatments. The results will be far more beneficial to patients suffering from a range of diseases.”

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