What if you could cure cancer by getting a small, circular disk implanted into your arm? Or perhaps instead of undergoing months of soul-wrenching chemotherapy, say one dose of magnetized nanoparticles were able to wipe out your tumors?
That's what scientists are working on and according to two new studies published at the end of November, both methods are showing tremendous promise.
A report published in Sunday's edition of Nature Materials detailed tiny, magnetized "nanodiscs", around 60 billionths of a meter thick, that labratory tests found can be used to disrupt the membranes of cancer cells, causing them to self-destruct.
The discs are made from an iron-nickel alloy, which move when subjected to a magnetic field, damaging the cancer cells, the report said.
One of the study's authors, Elena Rozhlova of Argonne National Laboratory in the United States, said subjecting the discs to a low magnetic field for around ten minutes was enough to destroy 90 percent of cancer cells in tests.
In a commentary on the report, Jon Dobson of Keele University in Britain said antibodies could be used to direct the discs towards tumor cells.
"This provides an elegant and rapid technique for targeting tumour destruction without the side effects associated with systemic treatments such as chemotherapy," he wrote.
In another study noted by Scientific American, a team of Harvard scientists eradicated cancerous growths in mice by implanting a small, circular disk under the skin.
"Numerous cancer vaccines have shown promise in animal models only to later fail to generate results in humans," noted writer Katherine Harmon. "But an implant-based approach may hold the key, according to a team of immunologists and bioengineers at Harvard University. They designed a tiny polymer disk saturated with dendritic cells and antigens specifically tuned to go after tumor cells."
The tests "[resulted] in complete regression of distant and established melanoma tumors," reads an abstract from the study, published by Science Translational Medicine. The authors said that by triggering the immune system to attack the tumor, "a substantial portion of the population" of cancerous mice saw their lives extended.
Cancer is still the number two killer in the United States behind heart disease, with over 500,000 victims in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control.