MRI scanners can steer tumor-busting viruses to specific target sites within the body

August 20, 2015
University of Sheffield
photographer: UF Health
Medicine, Health

MRI scanners, normally used to produce images, can steer cell-based, tumor-busting therapies to specific target sites in the body, University of Florida researchers and their colleagues have discovered.

MRI scanners, normally used to produce images, can steer cell-based, tumor-busting therapies to specific target sites in the body, University of Florida researchers and their colleagues have discovered.

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scanners have been used since the 1980s to take detailed images inside the body -- helping doctors to make a medical diagnosis and investigate the staging of a disease.

An international team of researchers, led by Dr. Munitta Muthana from the University of Sheffield’s department of oncology, have now found MRI scanners can non-invasively steer cells, which have been injected with tiny super-paramagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles, or SPIOs, to both primary and secondary tumor sites within the body.

This targeted approach is extremely beneficial for patients as it dramatically increases the efficiency of treatment and drug doses could potentially be reduced -- helping to alleviate side effects.

Revolutionary cell-based therapies, which exploit modified human cells to treat diseases such as cancer, have advanced greatly over recent years. However, targeted application of cell-based therapy in specific tissues, such as those lying deep in the body where injection is not possible, has remained problematic.

The new research suggests MRI scanners are the key to administering treatments directly to both primary and secondary tumours wherever they are located in the body.

Jon Dobson, a professor of biomedical engineering and biomaterials at the University of Florida, participated in designing the experiment and analyzing the results.

“This study arose out of our groups' collaborative work on magnetic nanoparticle targeting of macrophages and I'm grateful we were able to be part of the team that enabled this breakthrough,” Dobson said. “This research uses a magnetic nanotechnology approach to harness the innate ability of this type of cell to home in on hard-to-reach tumor cores, and turn this enhanced homing ability into a viable therapy for treating cancer”.

The study, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, shows that cancer mouse models injected with immune cells carrying SPIOs and armed with the cancer killing oncolytic virus, which infects and kills cancer cells, showed an 800 percent increase in the effects of the therapy.

“Our results suggest that it is possible to use a standard MRI scanner to naturally deliver cell-based therapies to both primary and secondary tumours which would normally be impossible to reach by injection,” Muthana said. “This not only increases the therapeutic efficacy but also decreases the risk of unwanted side effects.

“The beauty of using the MRI scanner to administer the therapy is that you can also use it for its original purpose providing a real-time image-guide to ensure the treatment has gone where it is needed.”

The study, which was funded by the Medical Research Council, was conducted in collaboration with University College London and University College London Comprehensive Cancer Imaging Centre.

Source: Jon Dobson, jdobson@ufl.edu, 352-294-5344 or 352-846-3373

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