A new cancer treatment that combines conventional chemotherapy with the use of magnetic particles to separate healthy from diseased cells has been tested at a London hospital. Two patients underwent the treatment for the often-fatal cancer called neuroblastoma, which affects the bone marrow, and were reported to be in good postoperative condition.
According to an announcement by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a sponsor of the basic research, the microspheres, beads of polystyrene surrounding a magnetic core, are coated with an antibody that will recognize and attach itself to the antibodies on the cancer cells, ignoring healthy cells. Bone marrow samples are removed from a patient and passed through a container surrounded by magnets, which attract the beads and hold the tumor cells against the sides of the wall, while the normal marrow cells pass through.
Only a fraction of the marrow can be removed safely. The patient is given chemotherapy or radiation or both to kill the malignant cells in the marrow that is left behind. Then the purified marrow is returned to the bone to resume its function as the foundation of the body's immune system until the rest of the marrow, damaged by the chemotherapy used to kill the cancer cells, can regenerate. In tests, 99.9 percent of tumor cells were removed from marrow samples.