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Innovative treatment targets killer tumours

An innovative new method of targeting tumours using magnetic forces could vastly improve the treatment and wellbeing of cancer patients. 

Researchers at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and the University of Wollongong (UOW) are developing the method that will enable doctors to deliver cancer medications directly to a tumour.
The proposed treatment involves attaching tiny magnetic particles to drug carriers that can be guided through the body to the cancer using a magnetic field. A magnetic field will also be used to release the drugs directly to the cancer cells.

Medications ingested for conventional cancer treatments disperse through the bloodstream and attach to the cancer cells where they interfere with the molecules that are responsible for its growth and spread.
However, currently, large doses of highly toxic cancer medications are required to kill a tumour, often leading to serious side effects and damaging healthy tissues and organs.

Professor Boris Martinac of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, said magnetically targeted drug delivery would help to reduce the amount of cancer-killing medication needed to kill the tumour and would markedly reduce side effects.

“We want to attach tiny magnetic particles to cancer drugs. The doctor can then direct the drugs through the patient’s bloodstream to the tumour using a hand-held magnetic device that emits a magnetic field, but is not harmful for the patient,” he said.

“When the drugs reach the tumour different alternating magnetic forces can be applied to the particles, causing the protein molecules to open, much like a valve or turning on a tap, releasing the drug that will then attack the cancer cells.

“Ultimately the drug will be delivered where it’s required in the right dosage lessening dangerous side effects for the patient. This is exciting because it will potentially reduce the need for current treatments such as chemotherapy and invasive surgery.”

UOW materials scientist and Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow, Dr Shahriar Hossain and his team, will build a device that doctors could use to ‘drive' the drugs through the body.

“We will build a state-of-the-art drug delivery system to treat types of cancers for which conventional therapy has shown limited effectiveness,” he said. “We have an opportunity to combine materials science and engineering expertise to the novel and challenging area of medical research. The collaboration with Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute will certainly help us to make our target achievable.”

The project, which is funded by University of Wollongong’s Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM) Gold scheme, draws on the expertise of Professor Martinac and his Victor Chang team in a first-time collaboration with chemists, physicists and materials scientists from AIIM.

“There is a lot of work to be done but I am confident we will make rapid progress and that is why we have brought together a team of experts from different disciplines, who are all specialists in their field and can communicate their ideas and knowledge for a common outcome,” Professor Martinac added.