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Using MR to steer cancer-killing viruses toward deep tissue tumors

by Gus Iversen, Editor in Chief | August 18, 2015
European News MRI Radiation Therapy X-Ray
Like a drone being guided remotely through a dense forest, an international team of researchers may have found a way to deliver cancer killing viruses directly to tumors deep within the body using the magnetic pull of an MR system. This novel, targeted, approach could dramatically increase the efficiency of cancer treatment while reducing the necessary amount of medication.

Using mice as their subjects, the researchers injected immune cells carrying super-paramagnetic oxide nanoparticles (SPIOs) and equipt them with an oncolytic virus (OV) which infects and kills cancer cells. They then guided the virus non-invasively to the tumor site using the attraction between the nanoparticles and the MR magnet.

The research comes out of the University of Sheffield's Department of Oncology in the U.K. and was funded by the Medical Research Council. They conducted their trials using a 7-Tesla MR — an exceptionally powerful magnet.

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"The beauty of using the MRI scanner to administer the therapy is that you can also use it for its original purpose, providing a real-time image-guide to ensure the treatment has gone where it is needed," said Dr. Munitta Muthana, lead researcher, in a statement.

Their study, published in Nature Communications, reports an 800 percent increase in therapy effectiveness. They also stated that the therapy could be useful for both primary and secondary tumors, but emphasize that there is still plenty that needs to be done.

"We need to do more studies first, but hopefully we will be able to start testing it in patients," Muthana told BBC News. "We'd need to check that clinical scanners are strong enough... and if we can reduce the length of time that a patient would need to be in the scanner. The treatment took 30 minutes to an hour in mice."

MR has enjoyed several decades as a state-of-the-art imaging modality, but rarely has it been looked to for therapeutic purposes.

In recent years, cell-based therapies have advanced significantly but utilizing them in deep tissue where they cannot be directly injected has been something scientists have struggled with.

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