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New Cancer Treatment with Promising Results
Dr. Rafael Davalos , a bioengineering professor at Virginia Tech is working with his former Ph.D. adviser, Dr. Boris Rubinsky, of UC-Berkeley doing new cancer research to develop a minimally invasive cancer treatment using short electrical pulses targeting only the cancer cells. Already, this procedure has cured cancer in livers of male Sprague-Daley laboratory rats without using any drugs.
Their work with this potentially new cancer cure began with cell cultures in test tubes and progressed to rats, then mice. Dr. Rubinsky reported doing tests on pigs in early 2007. In 2008, trials with human prostate cancer will begin. If those trials are successful, they will try to cure cancer of other types in humans.
This new cancer treatment uses irreversible electroporation (IRE) to kill cancer cells by electrocuting them. Healthy cells nearby are not harmed. As part of the procedure, the cancer cells are monitored using electrical impedance tomography to be sure no cancer cells are missed.
Cells are usually impermeable, but these electric micropulses open holes in the cell's membranes in a matter or seconds. Some of these holes remain open and the cell cannot repair them. This is the key and what kills the cancer cells as the contents drain out.
Dr. Davalos and Dr. Rubinsky have been able to treat different types of cancerous tissues in the laboratory. They treat an area while they watch the progress using tomography. Then they move the needles and repeat the procedure as necessary. The treatment takes only about one minute per affected area. Since the pulses are very short, the cells do not heat up. The procedure is relatively simple and inexpensive and can be done in any hospital.
This procedure avoids a key problem with traditional cancer treatments where the doctor cannot tell if the cancer cells are dead until about a week after the treatment. Some cancer cells can be missed if the oncologist is not aggressive enough, yet if they are too aggressive, surrounding healthy tissue may be damaged. Using IRE allows immediate feedback, enabling the doctor to watch how successful the treatment is while it is being performed.
This cancer treatment is superior to freezing cancer cells because some of the surrounding healthy cells can be damaged by the cold, as they can with heat treatment.
Dr. Douglas Scherr, the clinical director of urologic oncology at the Weill Medical School of Cornell University believes that this treatment of "irreversible electroporation" could be effective in the treatment of the types of cancers where the tumors can be easily imaged, such as kidney cancer, breast cancer or brain cancer. Research is being conducted at Weill Medical School to more accurately image the cancer, which should result in even more accurate location of the tumor.
Most of the information in this article came from the July 16, 2007 Electronic Engineering Times.
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