Electric Pulses to Destroy Cancer Cells

The process, called irreversible electroporation (IRE), was invented by two engineers, Rafael V. Davalos, a faculty member of the Virginia Tech–Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Science (SBES), and Boris Rubinsky, a bioengineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Electroporation is a phenomenon known for decades that increases the permeability of a cell from none to a reversible opening to an irreversible opening. With the latter, the cell will die. What Davalos and Rubinsky did was apply this irreversible concept to the targeting of cancer cells.

“IRE removes tumors by irreversibly opening tumor cells through a series of short intense electric pulses from small electrodes placed in or around the body,” said Davalos. “This application creates permanent openings in the pores in the cells of the undesirable tissue. The openings eventually lead to the death of the cells without the use of potentially harmful chemotherapeutic drugs.”

The researchers successfully ablated tissue using the IRE pulses in the livers of male Sprague-Dawley rats. “We did not use any drugs, the cells were destroyed, and the vessel architecture was preserved,” Davalos said.

Oncologists already use a variety of methods to destroy tumors using heat or freezing processes, but these current techniques can damage healthy tissue or leave malignant cells. The difference with IRE is Davalos and Rubinsky were able to adjust the electrical current and reliably kill the targeted cells. “The reliable killing of a targeted area with cellular scale resolution without affecting surrounding tissue or nearby blood vessels is key,” Davalos said.

COMPAMED.de; Source: Virginia Tech