Cancer kills around 450 people a day in the UK, and there are around 2.5 million living with the deadly condition.
While there is not yet a cure, scientists may be a step closer after developing ‘intelligent’ nanoparticles which can heat up to a temperature high enough to kill cancerous cells.
In a study by the University of Surrey, researchers created the nanoparticles to self-regulate so they could lose their heat before they got hot enough to harm healthy tissue.
Researchers believe they could soon be used to treat patients with cancer.
“This could potentially be a game changer in the way we treat people who have cancer,” said Professor Ravi Silva, Head of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey.
“If we can keep cancer treatment sat at a temperature level high enough to kill the cancer, while low enough to stop harming healthy tissue, it will prevent some of the serious side effects of vital treatment.
“It’s a very exciting development which, once again, shows that the University of Surrey research is at the forefront of nanotechnologies – whether in the field of energy materials or, in this case, healthcare.”
Thermotherapy – the use of heat for pain relief and health – has long been used to treat cancer, but it has proved difficult to use it without damaging healthy cells.
If temperatures can be controlled accurately within a range of 42°C to 45°C, tumour cells can be weakened or killed without affecting normal tissue.
In the study, the nanoparticles could induce temperatures of up to 45°C as part of a thermotherapy session.
But when they reach this point the self-regulating nanoparticles stop heating.
“Magnetic induced hyperthermia is a traditional route of treating malignant tumours,” said Dr Wei Zhang, Associate Professor from Dalian University of Technology.
“However, the difficulties in temperature control has significantly restricted its usage If we can modulate the magnetic properties of the nanoparticles, the therapeutic temperature can be self-regulated, eliminating the use of clumsy temperature monitoring and controlling systems.
“By making magnetic materials with the Curie temperature falling in the range of hyperthermia temperatures, the self-regulation of therapeutics can be achieved. “For the most magnetic materials, however, the Curie temperature is much higher than the human body can endure.
“By adjusting the components as we have, we have synthesised the nanoparticles with the Curie temperature as low as 34oC.
“This is a major nanomaterials breakthrough.”