A team of researchers at the University of New South Wales have developed a new system that can potentially lower the cost of cancer treatment as well as reduce the risk of cancer spreading by cleaning cancer from the blood.
The new cancer treatment uses biochip filters that identify and remove cancer cells. The team refers to the technique as “dialysis for cancer.” For patients who are in the early stages of cancer treatment, the process can be used to lower the chance of cancer metastasizing by using the method to cleanse the blood of circulating tumor cells.
“We are simply getting the blood from the patient, it’s a mixture of normal blood cells and cancer cells,” describes Dr. Majid Warkiani, who leads the team of researchers. “We put it inside one of our biochips and the cells go under migration, and they get affected by hydrodynamic forces. Under those forces that we are applying to the cells inside the chip, the bigger cells go up to the cancer cell outlet, and the smaller cells get pushed down and essentially they get fractionated, they get separated.”
Cancer patients require regular scans to ensure that their tumors are shrinking; these scans tend to cost around $700. This new producer, using the biochip to track and monitor the level of cancer cells in a patient’s blood, could offer patients the same level of efficiency at a fraction of the price: costing anywhere from $50 to $100.
“There is still a long way to go – including securing money and support in Australia – before this is possible,” Warkiani adds. With proper funding and support, it is expected that the study will be rolled out in Australian hospitals within a couple of years. The team is hopeful that this discovery can make inroads in cancer research and management.
Scientists have discovered a new treatment for leukemia that has the potential to provide a much better alternative to existing methods of treatment. The cancer breakthrough allows us to fight cancer without killing any of the healthy cells.
Researchers from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne are responsible for developing the new treatment, which could soon be available for one of the most aggressive cancers: acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
This news is incredibly promising, but it will need to undergo rigorous testing before it can get approval from the Food and Drug Administration, as is the case with any medical breakthrough. Although there are no guarantees that this treatment will get approved or implemented, the discovery is certainly exciting news for the medical community.
What exactly does the treatment involve?
The scientists identified a protein that is crucial to stopping the spread of the blood cancer called Hhex protein. When they are able to effectively cut off production of the Hhex protein in laboratory conditions, the results show that cancer can be stopped from spreading uncontrollably.
The use of the Hhex protein is especially beneficial because it is not required in healthy blood cells. This makes it a great alternative treatment to typical AML treatments that normally have damaging side-effects.
“Most existing treatments for AML are not cancer cell-specific, and, unfortunately, kill off healthy cells in the process,” said one of the studies researchers, Matt McCormack. “Hhex is only essential for the leukaemic cells, meaning we could target and treat leukemia without toxic effects on normal cells, avoiding many of the serious side-effects that come with standard cancer treatments.”
The researchers are now looking at whether or not the same results can be recreated in humans.
“Hhex only regulates a small number of genes and is dispensable for normal blood cells,” stated McCormack. “This gives us a rare opportunity to kill AML cells without causing many side-effects. We now hope to identify the critical regions of the Hhex protein that enable it to function, which will allow us to design much-needed new drugs to treat AML.”
Time will tell if this treatment becomes readily available for cancer patients. But if clinical trials prove to be successful then widespread use may be just a few years away.