Magnetic seeds provide new cancer therapy

UCL scientists have developed a new cancer therapy that uses an MRI scanner to guide a magnetic seed through the brain to heat and destroy tumors.

cancer therapy
Image credit: Mark Lythgoe (UCL)

The cancer therapy, shown in mice, is called ‘minimally invasive image-guided ablation’ or MINIMA. It consists of a ferromagnetic thermoseed that is navigated to a tumor using magnetic propulsion gradients generated by an MRI scanner, before being heated remotely to kill nearby cancer cells.

Published in Advanced Science, the team said its findings provide proof-of-concept for accurate and effective treatment of hard-to-reach glioblastoma, among other cancers such as prostate, that could benefit from less invasive therapies.

Senior author Professor Mark Lythgoe, UCL Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging, said MINIMA has the potential to prevent traditional side effects by precisely heating the tumor without harming healthy tissues.

In a study, the UCL team demonstrated three key components of MINIMA: accurate seed imaging, navigation through brain tissue using a custom MRI system with an accuracy of 0.3 mm, and tumor eradication by using it in a mouse model.

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Ferromagnetic thermoseeds are spherical, 2 mm in size and made of a metal alloy. They are implanted superficially into the tissue before being navigated to the cancer.

Lead author Rebecca Baker, UCL Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging, said: “Using an MRI scanner to deliver therapy in this way allows the therapeutic seed and tumor to be imaged throughout the procedure, ensuring treatment with precision. and without having to perform an open operation.”

MRI scanners are readily available in hospitals around the world and are crucial in diagnosing diseases such as cancer. The UCL researchers believe their work has the potential to elevate an MRI scanner from a diagnostic device to a therapeutic platform.

Co-author Dr. Lewis Thorne, a neurosurgeon consultant with the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, said, “I treat patients with the most common form of brain cancer, glioblastoma.

“After surgery, the average survival time is 12-18 months. MINIMA can successfully destroy cancer in a mouse and has the potential to prolong survival and limit damage to adjacent brain tissues in patients.”

In the longer term, Professor Lythgoe said the team will reshape the seed to act like a tiny cutting scalpel that can be guided through tissue, allowing surgeons to perform remotely operated surgeries to “revolutionize” non-invasive surgery.

The study was supported with funding from the Rosetrees Trust and the John Black Charitable Foundation.

Abhishek Maheswari
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