Skip to main content
Move the World.
new cancer treatment Hot Blood Cells

Lead Image © SciePro / Adobe Stock

One of the biggest challenges to treating cancer is getting drugs to tumors.

Many drugs that look promising in a Petri dish end up failing simply because they can't get the tumor — or can't get there without causing a lot of collateral damage.

Now, Chinese researchers have developed a new cancer treatment that may be better at homing in on tumors — thanks to modified blood cells that heat up when exposed to light.

A Combination Therapy

The new cancer treatment combines existing two therapies — immunotherapy and photothermal therapy — into one.

The mice that received the new cancer treatment were all still alive at the end of the study.

Immunotherapy uses a patient's own immune system as a weapon against cancer — this might involve a vaccine or immunostimulant drugs.

Photothermal therapy is more experimental.

Nanoparticles, designed to heat up when exposed to certain wavelengths of light, are injected into a patient's body. By focusing light on a tumor, doctors can get the nanoparticles to heat up in that exact location and kill the cancer cells.

The New Cancer Treatment

For their new cancer treatment, the researchers modified blood platelets to contain both an immunostimulant drug (which calls the body's immune cells to attack) and photothermal nanoparticles.

They tried the modified blood cells against nine different mouse models of cancer. When they shone near-infrared light on the animals' tumors, the platelets near the tumors heated up.

That caused the cells to release the immunostimulant drug, which then triggered an immune response — right on target.

Some of the platelets were also broken into smaller "proplatelets" by the heat. Those blood cell fragments were tiny enough to get deep inside the tumor, bringing the immunostimulant drug with them.

The heat also damaged blood vessels near the tumor — and when blood vessels are damaged, platelets swoop in to repair them by clotting. That meant the therapy itself brought more of the cancer-fighting platelets to the tumor site, where they could be activated by light.

Making the Leap From Mice

The new cancer treatment stopped tumor development almost completely in the mice, and at the end of the 100-day experiment, they were all still alive.

By comparison, the mice that didn't get both therapies didn't live past the 50-day mark.

"These results show great promise for utilization of this novel biomimetic platelet platform in high-performance and combined anticancer therapies," researcher Ma Guanghui said in a press release.

If the results translate from mice to humans (always a big if), cancer patients might one day have their own hot blood used as a weapon against their disease.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

Dispatches
A Tumor-Killing Virus Could Treat Eye Cancer and Save Children's Sight
A Tumor-Killing Virus Could Treat Eye Cancer and Save Children's Sight
Dispatches
A Tumor-Killing Virus Could Treat Eye Cancer and Save Children's Sight
The only treatment for retinoblastoma is surgical removal of the eye—but scientists may have found another way:...
By Hemant Khanna

The only treatment for retinoblastoma is surgical removal of the eye—but scientists may have found another way: cancer-killing viruses.

Genetics
Genetic “Off Switch” May Lead to New Breast Cancer Treatment
Breast Cancer Treatment
Genetics
Genetic “Off Switch” May Lead to New Breast Cancer Treatment
A much-needed triple negative breast cancer treatment could center on the suppression of a single gene identified in a new Tulane University study.

A much-needed triple negative breast cancer treatment could center on the suppression of a single gene identified in a new Tulane University study.

Health
“Electronic Nose” Can Detect a Cancer Precursor on Patients’ Breath
electronic nose
Health
“Electronic Nose” Can Detect a Cancer Precursor on Patients’ Breath
A new study found that an electronic nose could be an improved screening tool for Barrett’s esophagus, a precursor to esophageal cancer.

A new study found that an electronic nose could be an improved screening tool for Barrett’s esophagus, a precursor to esophageal cancer.

Cancer
Cancer Cells Can Hibernate to Escape Chemotherapy
cancer cells hibernate
Cancer
Cancer Cells Can Hibernate to Escape Chemotherapy
A new study has found evidence that cancer cells hibernate, slowing down their division and waiting out the harsh environment of chemotherapy.

A new study has found evidence that cancer cells hibernate, slowing down their division and waiting out the harsh environment of chemotherapy.

Surgery
Making Tumors Glow to Improve Cancer Surgery
Making Tumors Glow to Improve Cancer Surgery
Watch Now
Surgery
Making Tumors Glow to Improve Cancer Surgery
This surgeon is improving surgery by lighting up cancer cells.
Watch Now

This surgeon, Dr. Sunil Singhal, is making tumors glow to help doctors ensure they have removed all of the cancer cells at the surgery site. Completely removing cancer tumors can be difficult, and if a small amount remains, the cancer can recur. Sunil, the director of the Thoracic Surgery Research Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, came up with the idea of using glowing tumors to advance cancer surgery after an...

Medical Innovation
Cancer Immunotherapy “Baits” the Immune System Into Attacking Hidden Lung Tumors
cancer immunotherapy
Medical Innovation
Cancer Immunotherapy “Baits” the Immune System Into Attacking Hidden Lung Tumors
When cancer spreads, it often ends up in the lungs. ImmunoBait can ride a red blood cell in mice to deliver cancer immunotherapy where they live.

When cancer spreads, it often ends up in the lungs. ImmunoBait can ride a red blood cell in mice to deliver cancer immunotherapy where they live.

Ecosystems
New AI Tool Checks up on Ocean Health From Space
ocean health
Ecosystems
New AI Tool Checks up on Ocean Health From Space
Researchers have developed a machine-learning platform that can rapidly process ocean color from satellite images — giving data on ocean health.

Researchers have developed a machine-learning platform that can rapidly process ocean color from satellite images — giving data on ocean health.

3D Printing
Scientists 3D Print Human Tissue in Space
Scientists 3D Print Human Tissue in Space
3D Printing
Scientists 3D Print Human Tissue in Space
A new bioprinter is proven to work in space. Researchers demonstrated they could 3D print human tissue cells on the International Space Station.

A new bioprinter is proven to work in space. Researchers demonstrated they could 3D print human tissue cells on the International Space Station.

AI & Privacy
Hey Alexa, Quit Eavesdropping!
audio jammer
AI & Privacy
Hey Alexa, Quit Eavesdropping!
Researchers at the University of Chicago have developed an ultrasonic audio jammer that doubles as a fashion accessory.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have developed an ultrasonic audio jammer that doubles as a fashion accessory.