Cryo-surgery that removes breast tumours in minutes


London: Breakthrough ice technology developed by a British company means that many thousands of women with non-cancerous breast tumours can now be successfully treated in their doctors surgery rather than having to endure a hospital operation.

The treatment, developed by technology and product development company, Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP) and its client Sanarus Medical Inc based in California involves inserting a thin probe into the breast tumour which is then frozen at temperatures of -20 to -40 degrees centigrade.

The frozen tumour dies and over time is reabsorbed by the body.

Ultra sound is used to ‘image’ the growth of the ice ball during the freezing process making sure that only the affected tissues are frozen.

The treatment is quick, painless and takes less than 30 minutes to treat a large tumour of perhaps 4cm, while most take less than 15 minutes.

Prior to the development, GPs were reluctant to become involved in cryo-surgery because the equipment needed was bulky, cumbersome, difficult to use and intimidating for the patient. Also the main gas involved, argon, is difficult to obtain and is contained in large torpedo like tubes which weigh around 75 kilos each and need securing to a wall.

The main alternative for GPs was to recommend surgery with all its associated emotional trauma. Plus, the surgery would leave scarring and the ‘void’ left by removing the tumour could disfigure the shape of the breast. Additionally, there are always risks attached to a general anaesthetic as well as the possibility of infection, and patients can also expect a 2-3 day recovery period.

The technique developed by CDP and Sanarus, replaces argon with liquid nitrogen which is stored in 1 litre flasks. This breakthrough opened up the possibility to create a small, portable unit, called Visica 2, which is much easier to use, is not intimidating and more ‘user friendly’ for both the GP and the patient.

The procedure requires a tiny 3mm incision in the breast which is then covered by a normal plaster and no stitches are necessary.

Dr Keith Turner from Cambridge Design Partnership who led the UK team
commented: “This breakthrough means that a woman diagnosed with a non-cancerous breast tumour can pop into her doctor’s surgery, receive treatment and then get on with her day – in less time than it takes to do the weekly shop.”

The most common cause of benign breast lumps is the over development of fibrous tissue called fibro adenoma which, if it continues to grow, can become uncomfortable. Many women opt for surgical removal because they find the tumours emotionally and physically unacceptable.

Rather than an operating theatre, surgeons, anaesthetist, recovery nurses, physical scarring and emotional trauma, the new procedure is reduced to a doctor’s surgery, excellent cosmetic results and a dramatically reduced treatment time.

Gold nanoparticles boost cancer drug potency

London: Scientists at a UK university have discovered that adding nanoparticles of gold can boost the potency of a cancer drug by 50 per cent.

This allows more malignant cells to be killed while healthy tissue is left unharmed without giving harmful amounts of the drug. The aim is to develop an alternative to chemotherapy which cannot differentiate between healthy and unhealthy cells and acts like a poison on the body in general.

But newer cancer drugs, such as Glivec, which is used for leukaemia, or Sutent, launched last month to tackle kidney and rare digestive tumours, do not affect healthy cells.

Glivec, for example, acts on the enzymes which control the growth of certain cancers.

The study, by the University of East Anglia, used a light sensitive drug to target cancer cells.

The drug homes in on the tumour and, when exposed to light, it starts to produce a form of ‘active’ oxygen toxic to cancer cells. Dr David Russell and his team wanted to see if there was any way of making the system, which is known as photo- dynamic therapy, more efficient.

They attached gold nanoparticles to the drug and used it on cervical cancer cells in the laboratory, according to a report in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal called Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences.

It emerged that adding gold made the reaction stronger, causing 50 per cent more active oxygen, known as ‘singlet oxygen’, to be produced. And it was this that led to more cancerous cells taking up the drug and dying off. The researchers said their results were ‘very encouraging’ and are planning further clinical trials.

The scientists plan work with Italian scientists to replicate the laboratory results in animals.

Because the research is still at a very early stage, it is likely to be several years before the drug will be tested on humans. But Professor David Philips, an expert in photo- dynamic therapy from Imperial College London, said the results bode well for future studies.