Temperature-regulated nanoparticles could fight cancer

Scientists from the University of Surrey have developed self-regulating nanoparticles that get hot enough to kill cancer cells but leave healthy cells intact.


Hyperthermic therapy uses heat to attack cancer, but is difficult to administer without damaging non-cancerous tissue. To target tumours in isolation, temperatures need to be controlled between 42°C and 45°C. The researchers, from Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute, have created Zn-Co-Cr ferrite nanoparticles that are capable of reaching 45°C but then stop heating by themselves. The work appears in the journal Nanoscale.

“This could potentially be a game changer in the way we treat people who have cancer,” said Professor Ravi Silva, head of the Advanced Technology Institute at the University of Surrey.  “If we can keep cancer treatment sat at a temperature level high enough to kill the cancer, while low enough to stop harming healthy tissue, it will prevent some of the serious side effects of vital treatment.”

The nanoparticles were developed in collaboration with the Dalian University of Technology in China. When injected into the body for hyperthermic therapy, they are heated using magnetism. By engineering the Curie temperature – the point at which the materials lose their permanent magnetic properties – the temperature of the treatment can be precisely controlled. Importantly, the nanoparticles are also low in toxicity and are unlikely to cause permanent damage to the body, according to the researchers.

“Magnetic induced hyperthermia is a traditional route of treating malignant tumours. However, the difficulties in temperature control has significantly restricted its usage,” said Dr Wei Zhang, Associate Professor at the Dalian University of Technology.

“By making magnetic materials with the Curie temperature falling in the range of hyperthermia temperatures, the self-regulation of therapeutics can be achieved. For the most magnetic materials, however, the Curie temperature is much higher than the human body can endure. By adjusting the components as we have, we have synthesised the nanoparticles with the Curie temperature as low as 34°C. This is a major nanomaterials breakthrough.”