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MRI could deliver experimental cancer treatment

Friday 28th August 2015
Researchers at the University of Sheffield have found that experimental cancer treatment could be delivered through MRI scanners. Image Credit: sudok1
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A team at the University of Sheffield has found that MRI scanners could be used to deliver experimental cancer treatment to patients.

The new technique used magnetic fields from an MRI scanner to attack tumours with cancer-fighting viruses. It could give the technology a brand new use, as scanners are usually only used to gather images of the tumour not to treat the disease.

Scientists added tiny magnetic particles - called super-paramagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles - to already modified immune cells that carry a particular virus. They then manipulated the particles with magnets to direct them to the tumour.

The oncolytic virus, which was contained inside a macrophage immune cell, infects and kills the cancer cells.

The research, based on the lab, could help transform cancer treatment if the technique is proven to work in humans. The team found that the MRI scanner was able to improve delivery of the magnetic cells to tumours in the prostate or in tumours that had spread to the lungs.

Publishing their findings in the journal Nature Communications, the team said the virus was able to shrink tumours more effectively with the MRI scanner, compared to if there was no guidance given.

Dr Nick Peel, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Using viruses to kill tumour cells is one of many ways researchers are using the immune system to attack cancer. But getting the virus precisely on target is a real challenge.” 

However, he cautioned that while the approach was interesting, it was still in its early stages, and further work would be needed before this could benefit patients.

“It’s a fascinating idea - but more studies are needed to see if this approach could work in people, especially for tumours located deeper within the body,” he said.

Written by Martin Lambert

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