Using magnetically controlled nanoparticles to force tumor cells to self-destruct could be a future part of cancer treatment—replacing chemotherapy—according to research from Lund University in Sweden. The technique is much more targeted and less harmful than trying to kill cancer cells with toxic techniques such as chemotherapy, which damages other cells and radiation, which affects surrounding tissue.

The research, published in the journal ACD Nano, is a collaboration between physicists, chemists, engineers and doctors from Sweden, Germany and the United States.  

“Our technique is able to attack only the tumor cells,” said Enming Zhang, one of the first authors of the study.
The technique places the nanoparticles into a tumour cell, where they bind to lysosomes, which break down foreign substances that have entered a cell and can also break down the entire cell.
Researchers used nanoparticles of iron oxide treated with a special form of magnetism. Once the particles are inside the cancer cells, the cells are exposed to a magnetic field, and the nanoparticles begin to rotate in a way that causes the lysosomes to start destroying the cells.
Previous research on supermagnetic nanoparticles has focused on using the magnetic field to create heat that kills the cancer cells.  But this can cause inflammation that risks harming surrounding, healthy tissue. The method developed at Lund  only affects the tumor cells that the nanoparticles have entered.
While primarily intended for cancer treatment, the technique can also be applied to autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system attacks the body’s own insulin production.
The researchers at Lund University have a patent pending for their technique with rotating nanoparticles, although they acknowledge that  work remains before it can be transferred from the laboratory to clinical trials on patients.

—Information from a news release from Lund University.

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