An oxygen-eating battery implant cures 90 percent of cancer in mice

A self-charging battery implant that comes loaded with the anticancer drug TPZ removed 90 percent of cancer cells in mice and didn't cause any serious side effects. Will this work in humans?
Rupendra Brahambhatt
Nanobot attacking cancer cell
Nanobot attacking cancer cell


Cancer patients undergo chemotherapy or some other mainstream cancer treatment and experience various side effects and intense physical suffering. A team of researchers from Shanghai-based Fudan University claims to have devised anticancer therapy that is better and safer than now.

They have developed an implantable battery system that can identify low-oxygen environments in the human body that support tumor activity. The battery system includes a self-charging saltwater battery and an anticancer drug called tirapazamine (TPZ). 

Instead of targeting cancer cells individually, the battery-driven drug-delivery system attacks the environment in which many cancer tumors originate and thrive. In a recently published study, the researchers revealed that they also tested their anticancer setup in mouse models having cancer tumors, and the results were exciting.

The saltwater battery uses oxygen against cancer

The absence of oxygen in cancer cells and their surrounding environment is a well-known distinction between them and healthy body cells. Studies in the past have also confirmed that hypoxia or oxygen deficiency favors the progression of cancer cells.  

“Pathological hypoxia affects both cancer cells and the tumor microenvironment and plays a pivotal role in process of cancer progression and dissemination. Hypoxia regulates tumor neovascularization, metabolism, cell survival, and cell death,” the authors of a 2015 study on cancer and hypoxia noted.

An oxygen-eating battery implant cures 90 percent of cancer in mice
The working mechanism of the self-charging battery system.

The researchers at Fugan University realized this connection and developed a battery system that could detect cancer environments and simultaneously use hypoxia against the tumors. 

The saltwater battery identifies low-oxygen tumor microenvironments and then maintains the hypoxia in those locations until TPZ destroys the cancer cells.

Since the battery regulates the tumor conditions and TPZ only targets cells in low-oxygen conditions, no other healthy body cell is harmed during the process. The battery system was tested on five mice. Within two weeks, it reduced cancer tumor volumes by 90 percent in four. 

Most cancer cells were killed, and no significant side effects were observed. Contrary to when mice undergo standard cancer treatment, this time, they neither lost any weight nor experienced any changes in their hair, skin, or other organs.

The researchers said, “These results suggest that preadministration of the discharging battery to create a long-term hypoxic environment can greatly enhance the antitumor efficacy of TPZ. In addition, no obvious changes of body weight and histological morphology of mice major organs were observed.” Thereby proving the in-vivo safety of the battery system.

The battery-TPZ implant promises a hassle-free cancer cure

According to Fugan University researchers, their implantable battery system is biocompatible and can regulate hypoxia in a cancer cell for over 14 days. The therapeutic approach hasn’t been tested on humans yet, but it will be groundbreaking if it delivers the same results as it showed in mice.

Cancer patients won’t have to bear the painful side effects common with chemotherapy and other standard cancer treatments. "Using implantable devices to regulate tumor microenvironment 'in situ' may be a more effective way for cancer therapy," study authors Fan Zhang and Yongyao Xia told Medical Xpress.

However, more research is required to improve the performance of the battery system further and make it ready for human use. Hopefully, this innovation will bring us closer to painless and side-effect-free cancer treatment.

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

Study Abstract:

Implantable devices on the tumor tissue as a local treatment are able to work in situ, which minimizes systemic toxicities and adverse effects. Here, we demonstrated an implantable self-charging battery that can regulate tumor microenvironment persistently by the well-designed electrode redox reaction. The battery consists of biocompatible polyimide electrode and zinc electrode, which can consume oxygen sustainably during battery discharge/self-charge cycle, thus modulating hypoxia level in tumor microenvironment. The oxygen reduction in battery leads to the formation of reactive oxygen species, showing 100% prevention on tumor formation. Sustainable consumption of oxygen causes adequate intratumoral hypoxic conditions over the course of 14 days, which is helpful for the hypoxia-activated prodrugs (HAPs) to kill tumor cells. The synergistic effect of the battery/HAPs can deliver more than 90% antitumor rate. Using redox reactions in electrochemical battery provides a potential approach for the tumor inhibition and regulation of tumor microenvironment.

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