New research suggests that heat may be an important factor in the fight against cancer. In a collaborative effort among scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), John Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Manitoba, researchers found that carefully designed magnetic nanoparticles can be used to inject heat directly into cancer cells.
These magnetic nanoparticles are ultra-tiny balls of iron oxide. When exposed to a magnetic field, these microscopic bundles heat up. Not sure what iron oxide is? No worries. Imagine lobbing grenades at enemy combatants and you’ll have a general idea of what the scientists have accomplished. Or you could just imagine boiling an egg.
By first injecting the nanoparticles into cancerous tumors, which are programmed to find them, scientists can focus an attacking the affected cells directly. Different types of cancer require different levels of heat, so different magnetic fields will be required based on situation.
The fight against cancer isn’t over yet!
Similar research also led to treatments for hypothermia.
A lot of work is left to be done to find out which treatments in the fight against cancer work best. Scientists caution that they still need to spend more time researching how to optimize the nanoparticles to function economically, as the cost of running an alternating magnetic field is high.
More importantly, the needed level of iron is toxic when bouncing around inside the human body. The researchers had to find a way of engineering and delivering the required dose without killing the patient. To do this, they wrapped the nanoparticles in a non-toxic biological shell that can keep the heated iron out of direct contact with healthy cells.
The ultimate purpose of the research is lessening the need for radiotherapy or chemotherapy. While still useful, the application of heat increases the effectiveness of typical treatments, thereby reducing the danger of complication.
When do you think the fight against cancer will end? Will we find a cure or a foolproof treatment within the next decade? Let us know what you think the future holds!