The University of Surrey has developed nanoparticles that heat up to kill cancer cells, but can then be controlled to protect healthy tissue.

Research from the University of Surrey, published in Nanoscale, has been put forward as a new form of thermotherapy. Although it has been available for a long time, thermotherapy’s use is limited by the damage it causes to healthy tissues. Researchers have realized that by maintaining the temperature between 42-45°C, cancer cells can be weakened or killed, while healthy cells are left unscathed. The aim is to implant these nanoparticles, kickstarting a new generation of thermotherapy.

Hyperthermia sees body temperature rise above its normal level – which is often associated with illness. But, hyperthermia, or thermotherapy, can also be used in medicine. When exposed to elevated temperatures, changes take place inside cells that make them more likely to be affected by treatments like chemotherapy. Very high temperatures kill cancer cells but also injure or kill normal cells, so hyperthermia must be carefully controlled.

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Magnetic induced hyperthermia is a common approach for treating malignant tumors, but controlling it is difficult. Scientists at Surrey and colleagues at the Dalian University of Technology, China, have created Zn-Co-Cr ferrite nanoparticles that stop heating when they reach 45°C. The addition of chromium (Cr) altered the properties of the nanoparticles, making them easier to control. In addition, in vitro tests have suggested that the nanoparticles are low toxicity, so unlikely to cause damage to the body.

Nanoparticle structure being developed at the University of Surrey.

By overcoming the side effects currently associated with thermotherapy, it could become a popular treatment option with clinicians. Ravi Silva, Head of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey, said: “This could potentially be a game changer… If we can keep cancer treatment sat at a temperature level high enough to kill the cancer, while low enough to stop harming healthy tissue, it will prevent some of the serious side effects of vital treatment.”

With current cancer treatments pegged back by nasty side effects, biotech is working hard to find new and effective approaches. At the moment, popular avenues include CAR-T, with Kite joining Novartis in receiving FDA approval, T cell receptors, including Adaptimmune’s NY-ESO peptide and antibodies like ADC Therapeutics antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). Back in 2015, Nanobiotix was already working on nanoparticle technology for the treatment of cancer.

With the cancer field constantly on the hunt for effective approaches to tackling the disease, a breakthrough of this sort is always positive. It will be interesting to see how this more broad approach could be combined with other new therapies that are also in development.


Images – Kateryna Kon / shutterstock.com; University of Surrey

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