Magnetic attraction

A cancer treatment using microscopic magnets to enable ‘armed’ human cells to target tumours has been developed by UK researchers.


A cancer treatment using microscopic magnets to enable ‘armed’ human cells to target tumours has been developed by researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).


Research has shown that inserting these nanomagnets into cells carrying genes to fight tumours results in many more cells successfully reaching and invading malignant tumours.


Using human cells as delivery vehicles for anti-cancer gene therapy has long been an attractive approach for treating tumours, but these cells usually reach tumours in insufficient numbers to effectively attack them.


Now, a new ‘magnetic targeting’ method has been developed to overcome this problem by Prof Claire Lewis at Sheffield University, Prof Jon Dobson at  Keele University, and Prof Helen Byrne and Dr Giles Richardson at Nottingham University.


The technique involves inserting nanomagents into monocytes – a type of white blood cell used to carry gene therapy – and injecting the cells into the bloodstream. The researchers then placed a small magnet over the tumour to create a magnetic field and found that this attracted many more monocytes into the tumour.


‘The use of nanoparticles to enhance the uptake of therapeutically armed cells by tumours could herald a new era in gene therapy, one in which delivery of the gene therapy vector to the diseased site is much more effective. This new technique could also be used to help deliver therapeutic genes in other diseases like arthritic joints or ischemic heart tissue,’ explained Prof Lewis, the head of the laboratory in which the work was done.


The team are now looking at how effective magnetic targeting is at delivering a variety of different cancer-fighting genes, including ones which could stop the spread of tumours to other parts of the body.