Catching Cancer with Magnets

FRESNO, Calif.

A handwritten message on the mirror reminds 43-year-old Lisa Owens of what could be.

"I thought, in my mind, I was just going to have chemo, be over it for a about a year and just move forward with my life, and all was going to be well," Lisa Owens told Ivanhoe.

Three years after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, she's still fighting.

"I haven't really had much of a remission period. It's been a constant battle," Lisa said.

Now, researchers at Georgia Tech are studying a new weapon in the war against ovarian cancer by using magnetic nanoparticles engineered to attach to cancer cells circulating in the body.

"If we can target those magnetic nanoparticles to ovarian cancer cells, they'll attach to the free-flowing cancer cells, and then, in a magnetic field, we can sweep all of the cancer cells out," John Mcdonald, Ph.D., a professor of biology at Georgia Tech, explained.

Like dialysis, fluid is circulated through and out of the patient's abdomen and into an external chamber where tiny magnetic nanoparticles grab the cancer cells. The cleaned fluid is returned to the body.

"To explain how many nanoparticles you might use for a treatment, in about a gram of material, we're talking literally billions and billions of nanoparticles," Kenneth Scarberry, Ph.D. a post-doctoral fellow in nanochemistry at Georgia Tech, said.

It's an experimental technique that could one day improve survival.

"This is a very exciting type of procedure that's being evaluated because it has the potential of helping ovarian cancer patients because much of the cancer for ovarian cancer when it recurs, recurs back in the abdomen," Sharmila Makhija, M.D., a  director of gynecologic oncology at Emory University School of Medicine, said.

For this hopeful artist, help can't come soon enough. 

"I am not going to quit," Lisa said.

She'll keep fighting as long as it takes. The cancer magnet procedure has not yet been tested in humans, and researchers say clinical trials are probably five years away. But if the magnetic nanoparticles actually work, it could set the stage for changing the way we look at ovarian cancer. Doctors could treat it as a chronic disease, a disease that could be managed, to give patients longer, healthier lives.

John Toon, Research News & Publications Office
Georgia Institute of Technology
(404) 894-6986

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