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February 22, 2024

Molecular “Jackhammers” Destroy Cancer Cells in the Lab

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Dec 27, 2023

Researchers at Rice University have developed a new technique that uses vibrating molecules to physically destroy cancer cells, killing up to 99% of melanoma cells in lab tests. This innovative approach provides a potential new way to treat cancers non-invasively without drugs or surgery.

How It Works

The technique involves embedding fluorescent imaging molecules into the membranes of cancer cells and then exposing them to rapid vibrations. The vibrations cause the molecules to act like tiny jackhammers, mechanically rupturing the cancer cell membranes.

Diagram showing molecules embedded in cancer cell membranes

Fluorescent dye molecules (two red ovals) embedded in a cancer cell membrane fragment when targeted cell and forced to vibrate rapidly. Image credits: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

The researchers embedded a fluorescent dye called cyanine 3 into the cell membranes then activated them with a laser, causing them to vibrate at high frequencies.

“The dye molecules embed themselves perfectly into the membrane. When we hit them with a laser and make them vibrate, they rupture the membrane and kill the cancer cells,” said lead researcher Tom Killian.

In initial tests, they targeted lab-cultured human melanoma cells, vibrating the molecules at high speeds to physically destroy the cell membranes. This killed up to 99% of the cancer cells.

Advantages Over Current Treatments

This new technique offers key potential benefits compared to existing cancer treatments:

  • Non-invasive – It avoids surgery, chemotherapy drugs, or radiation therapy.
  • Precise – The vibrations can be focused to target cancer cells while mostly sparing healthy cells.
  • Overcomes treatment resistance – It physically destroys cancer cells rather than targeting biochemical processes, so may work on treatment-resistant cancers.

“The advantage here is that this approach of mechanically disrupting the membrane avoids mechanisms that cells use to evade things like drugs or the immune system,” Killian said.

Treatment Type Advantages Disadvantages
Surgery – Removes tumor directly – Invasive, risks/complications
Chemotherapy – Systemic effect – Harsh side effects
Radiation – Targeted effect – Damage to nearby tissue
Vibrational technique – Non-invasive, precise – Still early research

The researchers believe the technique could eventually provide an alternate treatment for stubborn, drug-resistant cancers like recurring melanoma.

Ongoing Research

The researchers are performing further studies to better understand the mechanism and optimize the cancer cell destruction effectiveness before planning trials in animals and eventually humans.

The team is also developing different techniques to activate the vibrating molecules besides lasers, including ultrasound and radio waves, which could activate molecules deep inside the body.

“One of the neat things is that all of these have potential clinical applications if we can target them in vivo,” said Killian.

Additionally, researchers are investigating using different dye molecules tuned to cell components like microtubules rather than membranes. This could potentially avoid having to inject dye molecules to embed in the membranes.

The Road Ahead

This proof-of-concept study demonstrated that rapidly vibrating dye molecules embedded in membranes can successfully rupture cancer cell membranes, providing a potential new non-invasive cancer treatment approach.

The researchers now plan to further test and optimize the technique’s effectiveness and safety. Key next steps include:

  • Test effectiveness against other cancer cell types besides melanoma
  • Optimize methods to activate vibration deep in tissues
  • Begin trials in animal models
  • Assess impact on healthy cells and safety
  • Develop protocols for use in human clinical trials

If the technique continues to show promise in further studies, human testing could potentially begin within the next 5-10 years.

“The idea of noninvasive, drug-free cancer treatment is still far off, but this is a critical first step along that path,” Prof. Kelly said. “We’re excited because this method is highly tuneable in ways no previous technique has allowed.”

This innovative molecular “jackhammering” approach provides hope for a future paradigm shift in how we can battle this devastating disease. Ongoing optimization work and clinical trials will determine if it can fulfill its disruptive potential for non-invasive and highly targeted cancer destruction.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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