Researchers at Kettering University and the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center are finding early success in developing a treatment that kills ocular cancer cells without using chemotherapy or radiation.
“The science is there and there’s proof that it works,” says Prem Vaishnava, professor of physics at Kettering University in Flint, who is working on the project with Dr. Hakan Demirci at U-M in Ann Arbor.
Vaishnava says the technique is now being used in Europe, but has not been approved in the United States.
The treatment uses magnetic nanoparticles — iron oxide molecules that are suspended in a solution and can be injected into the body or directly into a tumor — to target Chorodial Melanoma and Retinoblastoma, both cancers of the eye.
“Phase I and Phase II trials have been conducted successfully using magnetic nanoparticles in animals in the United States,” Vaishnava says.
Once injected, magnetic nanoparticles can be guided to the cancer in the eye by using a magnet positioned around the given area. Once they are concentrated around the cancer site, a magnetic field can be applied, causing the nanoparticles to oscillate and give off heat, thereby killing cancer cells.
The researchers have expanded the technique by attaching anti-cancer drugs to the magnetic nanoparticles. Once the magnetic nanoparticles reach the cancer site, the drugs are released right on to the cancer site in the eye.
Vaishnava says future plans are to use microbubbles, which are 1,000 times bigger than magnetic nanoparticles, in the tests. Each microbubble is surrounded by magnetic nanoparticles and can burst with ultrasound to release a large, concentrated amount of medication and nanoparticles at the cancer site.
“We took retinoblastoma cancer cells and mixed them with magnetic nanoparticles in a petri dish, not even a microbubble, and we heated them at 42 degrees Celsius for three minutes and were surprised with the results — we killed 90 percent of the cancer cells,” he says.
The researchers are seeking funding for Phase II trials, which will involve treating mice with ocular cancers. In the future, Phase III trial will involve humans.