Tiny beads called microspheres could become the new weapon in the fight against liver cancer

Tiny beads called microspheres which could become the new weapon in the fight against liver cancer are currently being designed by Monash University PhD student Ms Kathryn Spiers.

Ms Spiers, from the School of Physics and Materials Engineering, is manufacturing the spheres which measure 0.02mm in diameter, and to the naked eye, resemble a speck of dust.

The novel aspect of Ms Spiers' research project is a focused magnetic field device used to heat the magnetic microspheres.

She says because cancer cells are more susceptible to heat than healthy cells, increasing the temperature of the tumour is an effective way of targeting and killing malignant cells without damaging normal tissue.

Ms Spiers says the treatment's magnetic field is localised to the area around the liver so the patient's body is subjected only to a small, focused field, minimising the possibility of side effects.

The new treatment involves injecting thousands of the beads via an incision into the hepatic artery - the main blood supply for the liver. When the microspheres are injected they are picked up by the blood flow and eventually lodge in the malignant cells of the tumours. A magnetic field is then applied to the body to heat the magnetic microspheres and damage the cancer cells.

"If successful in treating the malignant tumour, apart from the minor procedure of injection, there would be no need for any further surgery," Ms Spiers says.

Ms Spiers says she is trying to encase the active ingredients of the microspheres within a substance which is compatible with human bone.

Ms Spiers hopes human trials of the microspheres will take place in a few years - if successful, she says the technology could be used in a practical clinical application to treat liver cancer.

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