Researchers in the US have developed a wirelessly powered implant that triggers nanoparticles to kill brain tumours.
The team at Stanford Medicine developed a remotely activated implant that heats up gold nanoparticles injected into the tumor, gradually killing cancerous cells.
This ‘photothermal’ treatment had been done before, but it could be performed only during open skull surgery. Instead, Dr Hamed Arami and, a former postdoctoral fellow at Stanford Medicine who is now at Arizona State University, worked with Dr Ada Poon, Stanford University associate professor of electrical engineering, who specializes in wireless devices that can integrate with the body.
A small, wirelessly powered device is implanted between the skin and the skull. Then specially designed gold nanoparticles are injected into the tumour through a tiny hole in the skull.
When turned on, the device emits infrared light that can penetrate brain tissue to activate the nanoparticles, which increase in temperature by up to 5 C. This is enough to kill the cancer cells with repeated treatments without damaging the surrounding brain tissue.
By adjusting the power and wavelength of light, researchers can target tumours of different sizes and locations in the brain. The structure and dosage of the nanoparticles are calibrated to generate just the right amount of heat.
“The nanoparticles help us target the treatment to only the tumour, so the side effects will be relatively less compared with chemotherapy and radiation,” said Arami. “We think this short amount of heating, which is in the clinically acceptable range, is not affecting normal activities.”
The researchers also showed that the injected nanoparticles stayed at the tumor site and did not endanger surrounding tissues.
“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 tumour, and the tumour can become drug-resistant or radiation-resistant,” said Arami. “The goal is to combine this with other treatments to extend survival.”
The implant has been tested on mice, and researchers are confident they can scale up the device for human brains. “With the rapid progress in the field of device development, I think that, in the next five years, we’ll be able to develop devices that can generate even more optical powers for deeper tumours,” said Arami.
“Actually,” Poon added, “a lot of the challenge from the engineering side was how to make the devices small enough to fit the mouse brain.”
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