Researchers explode tumor cells with nanobubbles 2,500 times smaller than a grain of salt

They function by gathering around the tumor and detonating once triggered by low-frequency ultrasound waves.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Exploding cancer cells.jpg
Exploding cancer cells

peterschreiber.media/iStock 

Researchers have conceived of a new way to destroy cancerous tumors by injecting nanobubbles into the bloodstream – then exploding them, according to a press release by Tel Aviv University published on Tuesday.

The bubbles are 2,500 times smaller than a single grain of salt. They function by gathering around the tumor and detonating once triggered by low-frequency ultrasound waves.

The researchers say they’ve already tried the non-invasive procedure on an animal model: a mouse with breast cancer.

Dr. Tali Ilovitsh, of the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, said: “Our new technology makes it possible, in a relatively simple way, to inject nanobubbles into the bloodstream, which then congregate in the area of the cancerous tumor."

“After that, using a low-frequency ultrasound, we explode the nanobubbles, and thereby the tumor.”

Replacing surgical removals

The researchers now hope their treatment could replace the surgical removal of tumors in humans.

Researchers explode tumor cells with nanobubbles 2,500 times smaller than a grain of salt
The research team

It is especially suitable for effectively treating solid tumors deep within the body and is suitable for patients who are unfit for tumor resection surgery. It has one drawback, however, and that is that the heat and high intensity of the ultrasound waves may damage the tissues near the tumor.

Dr. Ilovitsh and her team hope to overcome this issue by injecting nanobubbles into the bloodstream, rather than the tumor itself.

“The combination of nanobubbles and low frequency ultrasound waves provides a more specific targeting of the area of the tumor, and reduces off-target toxicity," explained Dr. Ilovitsh. 

"Applying the low frequency to the nanobubbles causes their extreme swelling and explosion, even at low pressures. This makes it possible to perform the mechanical destruction of the tumors at low-pressure thresholds." 

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"Our method has the advantages of ultrasound, in that it is safe, cost-effective, and clinically available, and in addition, the use of nanobubbles facilitates the targeting of tumors because they can be observed with the help of ultrasound imaging.” 

Helping in the treatment of tumors

Dr. Ilovitsh added that the use of low-frequency ultrasound also increases the depth of penetration, minimizes distortion and attenuation, and enlarges the focal point. 

“This can help in the treatment of tumors that are located deep with the body, and in addition facilitate the treatment of larger tumor volumes. The experiment was conducted in a breast cancer tumor lab model, but it is likely that the treatment will also be effective with other types of tumors, and in the future, also in humans.”

Keren Primor Cohen, CEO of Ramot, the university’s tech transfer company, has already applied for several patents regarding the new technology.

“We believe in the commercial potential of this breakthrough technology in cancer treatment, and we are in contact with several leading companies in Israel and abroad to promote it,” Cohen said.

The researchers’ study has been published in the journal Nanoscale.