By Cameron Chai
Irreversible Electroporation is a new minimally invasive treatment for treating cancer.
Researchers at the Institute of Life Sciences, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa, Italy have used boron-nitride nanotubes (BNNT) to improve the effectiveness of the cancer treatment.
Irreversible Electroporation involves putting holes in tumor cell walls. It is used to treat soft tissue tumors in cancers that are difficult to treat, such as head and neck, prostate, pancreas, kidney, lung and liver. The treatment is being offered and studied for effectiveness at many centers in the USA.
Researchers belonging to the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, the National Institute of Aerospace and NASA's Langley Research Center provided the BNNTs.
A hole of an appropriate size in a cancer cell wall may cause the cell to commit suicide. The chief scientist at BNNT, Michael W. Smith, offered BNNTs to the researchers in Italy. These high-quality BNNTs are flexible, long, and have a small diameter. They are crystalline and have minimal defects.
The BNNTs were suspended in glycol-chitosan and then chopped into bits with sound waves. These bits were then put on human epithelial carcinoma (HeLa) cells. The amount of BNNTs that had the capacity to kill around 25% of the cancerous cells within a period of 24 hours was determined. Through an electroporation device, the researchers supplied electricity of 160 V to a solution which contained the particular amount of BNNTs. The HeLa cells were exposed to the solution. Further, unexposed cancer cells were also treated with the same amount of voltage.
When the BNNTs remained on the cell surface, the irreversible electroporation treatment killed 88% of the cells. Only 40% of the cancer cells without BNNTs were killed.
A novel pressurized vapor/condenser method for synthesisation of high-quality BNNTs was developed by researchers at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace. Jefferson Lab's Free-Electron Laser was used for developing the method.
The laser beam was used to hit and vaporize a target in a nitrogen gas-filled chamber, which formed a boron plume. A condenser was used to cool the vapor leading to formation of droplets, which combined with nitrogen to form BNNTs.