Magnets that cause tumours to 'self-destruct' could be a revolutionary new weapon in the fight against cancer.
Scientists in South Korea have developed the method, which uses a magnetic field to trigger the cells to effectively kill themselves. The researchers have demonstrated that the process works in bowel cancer cells and living laboratory fish. They now plan to test the technique on a range of cancers to see if it can destroy other tumours.
Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, as it is known, is one of the body's ways of getting rid of old, faulty or infected cells. In response to certain signals, the doomed cell shrinks and breaks into fragments. These are then engulfed and consumed by amoeba-like immune cells. But with cancer, this cell-death process often fails, so cells are allowed to keep dividing uncontrollably.
The new magnetic therapy involves creating tiny iron nanoparticles attached to antibodies - proteins produced by the body's immune system when it detects harmful substances. These iron nanoparticles then bind to the molecules on tumour cells. When the magnetic field is applied, the molecules cluster together, automatically triggering the 'death signal'.
The process raises the hope of new targeted treatments that could kill tumour cells resistant to the usual process of cell death.