Georgia Tech grooms nanomagnets to sweep metastatic cells from body

February 2, 2010

Magnets have been thought for centuries to have healing power. Scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Ovarian Cancer Institute hope to take this possibility a quantum leap further. They are grooming magnetic nanoparticles as the mainstay of a technique aimed at filtering out free-circulating ovarian cancer cells from the body. Their goal is to slow or stop the metastatic spread of cancer.

Magnets have been thought for centuries to have healing power. Scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Ovarian Cancer Institute hope to take this possibility a quantum leap further. They are grooming magnetic nanoparticles as the mainstay of a technique aimed at filtering out free-circulating ovarian cancer cells from the body. Their goal is to slow or stop the metastatic spread of cancer.

Preclinical tests done at Georgia Tech have shown that the tiny magnetic particles can be used to capture cancer cells found in animal-and human-tissue samples. Additional work has shown that the nanomagnets, attached to cancer cells, can be guided to a specific location in the body of animal subjects. Now the researchers plan to test a technique they hope will remove free-floating cancer cells from the peritoneal fluid and blood of animals.

“Our technique is designed to filter out circulating tumor cells that can give rise to secondary tumors,” said Ken Scarberry, PhD, a researcher at the Ovarian Cancer Institute, which is located at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “If it works, it should increase longevity by preventing the continued metastatic spread of the cancer.”

Scarberry originally conceived the clinical use of nanomagnets while performing research as a PhD student at Georgia Tech. Initially the idea was to use them to extract viruses and virally infected cells. Scarberry has since evolved the idea to look at how these magnetic particles might be applied as part of a filtering process to remove cancer cells.

John McDonald, a professor in the school of biology at Georgia Tech and chief research scientist at the Ovarian Cancer Institute, brought Scarberry to the institute as part of a research effort aimed at developing a way to reduce the spread of ovarian cancer cells to other organs. If developmental efforts are successful in animals, McDonald and Scarberry plan to test their technique in clinical trials.