Fighting ovarian cancer with magnets

Researchers have begun studying a new technique that utilizes magnets to help fight ovarian cancer.

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," said Owens, an ovarian cancer survivor.

Ovarian cancer strikes 25,000 women every year and while early diagnosis is the key to survival, recurrence can be deadly.

Three years after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, Owens is still fighting.

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

Researchers at Georgia Tech University are now 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," said John McDonald, Ph.D., professor of Biology at Georgia Tech. "Then, in a magnetic field, we can sweep all of the cancer cells out."

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 then 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," said Kenneth Scarberry, Post-Doctoral Fellow in Nanochemistry at Georgia Tech.

It is 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," said Sarmila Makhija, doctor and Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Emory University's School of Medicine.

And for this hopeful artist, help can't come soon enough. Owens said she will keep fighting as long as it takes.

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

The cancer magnet procedure has not yet been tested in humans and researchers say clinical trials are probably five years away.

If they work, it could change the way we look at ovarian cancer by allowing doctors to manage the disease and give patients longer, healthier lives.

Research Summary:

BACKGROUND: According to the National Cancer Institute, 21,880 American women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010, and 13,850 women died from the disease that same year. Most ovarian cancers are either ovarian epithelial carcinomas, meaning the cancer begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary or malignant germ cell tumors, meaning the cancer begins in the egg cells. Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, the cancer becomes difficult to treat and is often fatal.

RISK FACTORS: Certain risk factors may increase a woman's chance of developing ovarian cancer. A small percentage of ovarian cancers are caused by an inherited gene mutation. The genes known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer are known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes were originally identified in families with multiple cases of breast cancer, but women with these mutations also have a significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer. Another known genetic link involves an inherited syndrome called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). Women in HNPCC families are at an increased risk for cancers of the uterine lining, colon, ovary and stomach. Other risk factors may include a family history of ovarian cancer, a previous cancer diagnosis, increasing age, never having been pregnant and the use of hormone replacement therapy for menopause.

TREATMENT: Treatment of ovarian cancer typically involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Surgery usually involves the removal of both ovaries, fallopian tubes, the uterus, nearby lymph nodes and a fold of fatty abdominal tissue known as the omentum, where ovarian cancer often spreads. Surgeons also remove as much cancer as possible from the patient's abdomen, which is known as debulking. Less extensive surgery may be possible if the cancer was diagnosed at a very early stage.
(SOURCE: The Mayo Clinic)

CANCER MAGNET: Scientists are now looking at a new way to reduce the spread of ovarian cancer by pulling migrating cancer cells out of the body. Researchers at Georgia Tech are using magnetic nanoparticles that are engineered to attach to cancer cells. By introducing the cancer-grabbing magnetic nanoparticles into fluids removed from a patient's abdomen, researchers can use a magnetic field to pull out both the nanoparticles and cancer cells attached to them. The cleaned fluid would then be returned to the patient's body. The process would be similar to kidney dialysis in which blood is removed from the body, cleaned and returned. The nanoparticles would not enter a patient's body. This cancer magnet procedure has not yet been tested in humans. Researchers say clinical trials are probably five years away.
(SOURCE: Georgia Tech)

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

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