KAUST Researchers Develop a Three-Step Cancer-Killing Mechanism

The new treatment activates an external geomagnetic field.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Co-developed by KAUST researchers, these experts have conceived drug-coated iron nanowires that can be guided to the site of a tumor. They do so by using an external magnetic field before activating a three-step cancer-killing mechanism.


The end result is that this approach could provide an effective and safe cancer-killing therapy.

These new nanowires follow a very specific focus where they release their drug cargo inside cancer cells, essentially punching holes in the cell’s membrane by delivering a blast of heat. While the combination therapy maximizes cancer cell death, its highly targeted nature should minimize side effects.

The researchers chose Iron as the first material to make the nanowires due to its safety. Saidürgen Kosel, who leads the group at KAUST said in a statement that “Iron, in molecular form, is a native material in our bodies, essential for oxygen transport."

The nanowires that are used consist of an iron core, coated with an iron oxide shell. “Iron-oxide-based nanomaterials have been approved by regulatory bodies for use in magnetic resonance imaging and as a dietary supplement in cases of nutrition deficiency" Kosel.

Iron-based materials also have magnetic properties that are of key benefit. “Using harmless magnetic fields, we can transport them; concentrate them in the desired area; rotate or make them vibrate, such as we did in this study, and even detect them through magnetic resonance imaging,” explained Aldo Martínez-Banderas, a member of Kosel’s team.

Using these low-power magnetic fields, the team agitated the nanowires in a way that saw the opening of the membrane of target cells, inducing cell death.

The team also texted attaching the anticancer drug doxorubicin to the nanowires via pH-sensitive linkers. Since a tumor's environment is more acidic than healthy ones, the linker selectively degraded in or near tumor cells, releasing the drug where it is needed most. “The combination of treatment resulted in nearly complete cancer cell ablation and was more effective than individual treatments or the anticancer drug alone,” Martínez-Banderas said.

 “Taken together, the capabilities of iron-based nanomaterials make them very promising for the creation of biomedical nanorobots, which could revolutionize healthcare,” Kosel added. “While this might seem futuristic, the developments are well on their way.”

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