One potentially valuable way to attack cancer cells is to zap them with low-intensity alternating current. This interferes with the flow of calcium and potassium ions in and out of the cells, a process so important that disrupting it ultimately kills them.
But there is a problem with this approach: healthy cells are just as susceptible to ion channel disruption as cancer cells, so the treatment kills healthy and cancerous cells alike. What’s needed is a way to focus the treatment on cancer cells while leaving the healthy ones untouched.
Enter Attilio Marino at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Enrico Almici at the Polytechnic University of Turin, and colleagues in Italy. These guys use piezoelectric nanoparticles that generate current inside the body when repeatedly compressed with ultrasound. And they have gathered the first evidence that this could be turned into an effective treatment for cancer.
The technique is straightforward in theory. Piezoelectric materials generate a charge when squeezed (and similarly change shape when zapped with a voltage). They are widely used in everything from microphones to motors.
Marino and co’s idea is to inject biocompatible nanoparticles into the body and then bombard them with ultrasound. The high and low pressures associated with the ultrasound should cause the nanoparticles to generate a charge that interferes with ion channels and kills the cells. The team choose barium titanate nanoparticles, which are considered biocompatible since they contain no lead.
Electric nanoparticles can target and kill cancer cells by zapping them
Emerging Technology, arXiv