Scientists have developed a promising new cancer treatment that uses electrical pulses to tear microscopic holes in tumors without harming healthy tissue.
The so-called IRE technique, presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology's 38th Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans this week, could offer a new way to target challenging cancers that have spread to other parts of the body and are beyond the reach of traditional surgical, radiation, and chemotherapy treatments.
“Irreversible electroporation [IRE] is a new way to attack cancer, using microsecond electrical pulses to kill cancer at the cellular level without damaging healthy tissue nearby,” said lead researcher Constantinos T. Sofocleous, M.D., an interventional radiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “It may be especially beneficial in treating liver, lung, pancreatic, and other cancers that are close to blood vessels, nerves, and other sensitive structures.”
Dr. Sofocleous noted most other cancer treatments can damage healthy tissue near the tumor, but IRE precisely perforates the cancer cells, posing fewer risks to major blood vessels, nerves, bile ducts, and other vital structures.
“IRE appears to be especially beneficial in people with cancer that has spread beyond the primary tumor who do not have good treatment options,” he added. “IRE uses strong electric fields to create tiny holes in the cell membrane, killing the cancer by disrupting the balance between the molecules inside and outside the cell — without resulting in other cell damage. This makes IRE potentially ideal for treating tumors close to sensitive structures.”
In a small study of 25 cancer patients, Dr. Sofocleous said IRE was shown to be safe in the treatment of cancers that have metastasized to the liver, lung, bladder, and the pelvic region. He said researchers now hope to proceed with larger clinical trials of IRE that could lead to wider use of the technology.
“Using the least-invasive treatments available, interventional radiologists are able to destroy entire tumors with a needle and image guidance,” said Dr. Sofocleous. “We often treat patients who have no other conventional treatment options or have such poor health that even minimally invasive surgery is too dangerous.”
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