Scientists in London are developing a pioneering cancer therapy that uses an MRI scanner to guide a magnetic seed through the brain that can ‘heat and destroy tumours’.

The team from University College London (UCL) say they have established a ‘proof-of-concept’ that the magnetic thermoseed, demonstrated on mice, can provide ‘precise and effective treatment’ in destroying ‘hard-to-reach’ glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, and other cancers like prostate, where less invasive therapies are critical to achieving greater success.

Improving the precision of our cancer treatments is arguably one of the greatest unmet needs we have today.

Professor Mark Emberton, UCL

Called ‘minimally invasive image-guided ablation’ or MINIMA, the therapy involves a ferromagnetic thermoseed being directed towards a tumour via ‘magnetic propulsion gradients generated by an MRI scanner’, where it is heated remotely to kill cancer cells. Which Professor Mark Lythgoe, from the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging, and a senior author of the new study, said will mean being able to “precisely treat the tumour without harming healthy tissues”.

“Using an MRI scanner to deliver a therapy in this way allows the therapeutic seed and the tumour to be imaged throughout the procedure, ensuring the treatment is delivered with precision and without having to perform open surgery,” explained Rebecca Baker, another lead author of the study and member of the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging. “This could be beneficial to patients by reducing recovery times and minimising the chance of side effects.”

Currently the survival time for patients following surgery for glioblastoma, the most common brain cancer, is between 12-18 months but with the new therapy, Dr Lewis Thorne, a consultant neurosurgeon at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, and co-author of the study, believes there is the “potential to extend survival and limit damage to adjacent brain tissues in patients”

On the longer term plans for the treatment, Professor Lythgoe added: “We will change the shape of the seed to act as a tiny cutting scalpel that could be guided through tissue, which would allow surgeons to perform remotely controlled operations, revolutionising non-invasive surgery.”

The research was published today in Advanced Science.

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