Fighting cancer with heat Biocompatible thin film to expand thermotherapy - The Comprehensive Minds

Fighting cancer with heat! Biocompatible thin film to expand thermotherapy

Fighting cancer with heat
photo credit: titech.ac.jp

There's a new potential cancer treatment that utilizes the mechanism behind induction cooktops. It's the result of a collaboration between medicine and engineering, using cutting-edge printed electronics and bioplastics. Cancer tissue is more sensitive to heat than normal tissue. This is because the blood vessels in cancer tissue are dense, making them inept at dissipating heat. 

Cancer thermotherapy exploits this fact. It is a treatment with few side effects and uses electromagnetic waves to heat tissue to 42.5 °C, a temperature at which only cancer cells die. However, it is not widely used at present because the method requires large equipment. 

Therefore, research is being conducted at Tokyo Tech to make thermotherapy more effective using cutting-edge biomaterials and electronics. They are applying what is known as "printed electronics". Unlike conventional circuit manufacturing technology, this method allows circuits to be printed on flexible substrate materials. The research team used this technology to print a circuit on thin film. 


But how does this technology help with cancer thermotherapy? 

technology help with cancer thermotherapy
photo credit: titech.ac.jp


First, an electric current is passed through a spiral metal coil, creating a magnetic field. When the printed circuit is placed above the coil, heat is generated through electromagnetic induction. Therefore, if the circuit is placed on the affected tissue, and the instrument is brought close to the area, thermotherapy can be achieved. 

The heating device operates on the same principle as an induction cooktop. However, in order to use it as a medical device, the team had to create a circuit that is compatible with the human body. Let's start with the conductive ink used in the circuit. Using gold, which is harmless to humans, seems to solve that problem. 

There's also the thin film, which serves as a substrate on which to print the circuit. One candidate was a biocompatible plastic called polylactic acid. In order to set conductive ink on a circuit, it must be heated to 200 °C or higher to remove impurities. 

But polylactic acid is sensitive to heat and deforms at about 60 ℃, making it inadequate for heat treatment. So researchers developed a new method, which is to print the circuit on a film of another material called polyimide.

biocompatible plastic
photo credit: titech.ac.jp

By applying a solution of polylactic acid, hardening it, and then peeling it off like a sticker, they successfully developed a circuit on the thin film of polylactic acid. This allows them to create a soft circuit made entirely of biocompatible materials. 


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In their study, they considered how to design a circuit that effectively transfers heat by utilizing computer simulations using the finite element method that divides an object into a mesh to perform calculations. 

Collaborating with medical researchers at Azabu University and Teikyo University, the research team studied the effectiveness and safety of the device on living tissue. Observing the living tissue after the experiment, there were no burns from overheating. 

In other words, we heated the affected lesion efficiently without damaging normal tissue. We are striving for minimally invasive treatment by inserting this soft heating device into the lesion through an endoscope or catheter. 

This flexible biocompatible device was created through cutting-edge materials and electronics. With potential applications in cancer thermotherapy as well as other areas, this bold engineering approach will usher in a new era of medicine. 


Source: https://www.titech.ac.jp/english/news/2021/061380

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