IISc Develops First-Ever Bandage That Kills Cancer Cells

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The Indian Institute of Science has developed a bandage that is incorporated with magnetic nanofibers and can treat skin cancer by administering heat to the tumour cells.

The research was recently published in Cancer Reports, an international peer-reviewed journal.

Skin cancer, the most common kind of cancer, is caused mainly due to excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. Common treatments for skin cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

But these treatments and other conventional therapies have limitations. A promising alternative that has emerged to treat skin cancer is magnetic hyperthermia, in which magnetic nanoparticles are used to heat the tumours by using an external alternating current magnetic field (AMF). But it is difficult to achieve uniform heating of the affected tissues using such magnetic nanoparticles because of uncontrolled aggregation. Besides, they can accumulate in the human body and induce toxicity.

A team of researchers led by Kaushik Suneet and Shilpee Jain from the Centre for BioSystems Science and Engineering (BSSE) and the Department of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics (MRDG) at IISc. have developed the bandage with a unique blend of magnetic nanoparticles fabricated using a method called electrospinning. It comprises nanoparticles made from an oxide of iron, Fe3O4, and a biodegradable polymer called polycaprolactone (PCL) pasted on surgical tape. The magnetic material generates heat when it is subjected to a high-frequency oscillating magnetic field.

In order to investigate whether the heat generated and dissipated by the magnetic bandage can treat skin cancer, the researchers did two experiments: one in vitro – on human cancer cell lines – and the other in vivo – on mice with artificially-induced skin cancer.

In both experiments, the heat generated by applying AMF to the nanofibrous magnetic bandage killed the cancer cells successfully. Moreover, in the in vivo experiment, the healthy tissue remained intact with no signs of burns, inflammation, or thickening, said Mr. Suneet.

“The elevated temperature at the treatment site enables heat to penetrate the tumour cells, rupturing the compact random vasculatures (network of blood vessels) of the tumours,” explained Ms. Jain, who was a DST-INSPIRE Faculty Fellow at BSSE when the study was conducted. “In contrast, the normal healthy cells, owing to their organised open vasculatures, dissipate the heat to maintain normal temperatures, and so remain unharmed,” she said.

Although this novel treatment has been shown to be effective against skin cancer in lab experiments, it is still at a nascent stage of development as a clinical therapy. “Further studies are required to test the efficacy on a larger scale in rabbits, dogs, and monkeys, before employing it for pre-clinical and clinical applications,” she cautioned.

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