Brain tumors are one of the most insidious types of cancer. A particularly aggressive form, glioblastoma, kills roughly 10,000 Americans each year. Patients with brain tumors typically undergo open-skull surgery to get rid of as much of the tumor as possible. Then, chemotherapy or radiation follows to remove any remaining cells, with substantial side effects and frequent hospital visits. Unfortunately, cancer often returns in a form that’s resistant to treatments.
Amazingly, all this could be about to change: a team of scientists has developed a wireless implant that uses heat to kill cancer from within.
The science and other stuff to know
Scientists at Stanford Medicine were able to develop a less invasive method of treating brain tumors, according to a study published in Nature Nanotechnology. When the new technology, a brain implant, was tested on mice, it significantly increased survival times. All it required was one 15-minute treatment per day for 15 days, even while the mice went about their normal business.
So, how exactly does it work? The implant is placed between the skin and the skull. Then, star-shaped gold nanoparticles are injected into the brain tumor through a tiny hole in the skull. They are then heated up to 5 degree Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) by the device’s infrared light. After a few rounds of treatment, the heat successfully kills the cancer cells, without damaging the surrounding brain tissue.
This technique of using heat, called Photothermal Therapy (PTT), is already being used to treat tumors. Until now, however, it has only been possible during surgery. The Stanford team says by adjusting the power of the infrared energy and light’s wavelengths, this tech can target tumors of different sizes and locations in the brain.
According to the study, mice that received the new treatment lived longer than untreated ones. The survival times doubled, even tripled on average. Combined with chemotherapy, the treatment was a success in making the mice live even longer.
“Glioblastoma patients don’t often live more than two to three years after diagnosis because you can’t get rid of every part of the tumor, and the tumor can become drug-resistant or radiation-resistant,” said Hamed Arami, Ph.D., co-lead author of the study and a former postdoctoral fellow at Stanford Medicine, in a press release. “The goal is to combine this with other treatments to extend survival.”
As promising as the study seems, the researchers admit it’s difficult to extrapolate the results for humans. They now hope to expand the implant for use in human patients, allowing for at-home treatment in addition to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy without increasing the burden of hospital visits or interfering with patients’ daily routines.
Cancer remains the second leading cause of death globally and won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Similar to the scientists at Stanford Medicine, other researchers are working to develop oncology devices that can better detect and kill cancerous cells. There are also other technological advancements such as CRISPR, artificial intelligence, robotic surgery, and many more that are revolutionizing cancer research and care.