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New research shows that it could be possible to "mechanically" destroy cancer cells by filling them with clumps of microscopic magnetic particles that are then rotated by a magnetic field in order to blast apart the cancer cells.

The early study conducted by international scientists at the University of Madrid opens up a completely new way of attacking tumours by physically tearing them apart.

The team first coated tiny magnetic "nanoparticles" with molecules that attach themselves to specific cancer proteins. In laboratory tests, the particles were readily taken up by cancer cells.

Applying an external magnetic field caused the particles to stick together in elongated clumps, creating a potent weapon for defeating cancer by brute force.

The scientists, co-led by Professor Gustavo Plaza, from the Polytechnic University of Madrid in Spain said: "The application of an external relatively low magnetic field results in the formation of elongated nanoparticle aggregates.

"Finally, under a low frequency rotating magnetic field, we achieve the movement of nanoparticle aggregates that produce forces high enough to break ... the cell membrane, inducing the death of cancer cells with a very high effectiveness."

Dr Lynn Turner, Head of Research at Worldwide Cancer Research commented:

"This research is very exciting, a simple but novel approach, making small magnetic nanoparticles clump together inside cancer cells and then force the cancer cells to burst.

Using nanoparticles is one of the innovative ways researchers are developing effective treatments for cancer right now in labs around the world. These tiny particles are coated in molecules that specifically target cancer cells and because they are so small, they are taken up by the cancer cells.

The nanoparticles can then be used to destroy the cancer cells in a physical way, like the researchers have done here - producing a force that makes the cancer cell burst. Or they can be used to deliver drugs directly to the cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone.

Nanoparticles may be small, but the potential benefit they could bring to cancer patients is huge. We need to support more pioneering research like this."

Nanoparticles are an important new line of investigation in order to deliver more effective, safer treatments for cancer patients.  Although we weren’t involved in this work, Worldwide Cancer Research scientists in Italy are also using nanoparticles to fight cancer. Dr Flavio Curnis in Italy recently demonstrated that tiny gold nanoparticles could boost the effectiveness of their prototype cancer treatment. The team are now working on improving the effectiveness and safety of the treatment before testing it in patients.

Yajing Shen et al. Elongated Nanoparticle Aggregates in Cancer Cells for Mechanical Destruction with Low Frequency Rotating Magnetic Field, Theranostics (2017). DOI: 10.7150/thno.18352

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