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Cell-sized polymer bubbles filled with anticancer drugs are being researched as a radical new way to tackle the disease.
The bubbles would be tracked through the bloodstream and burst by a pulse of focused ultrasound, releasing the chemotherapy agents where needed.
This would allowed effective doses of drugs to be carefully targeted at tumours, which would reduce side-effects and be less likely to damage healthy cells.
Steve Klink, from the Netherlands-based electronics company Philips, which is pioneering the technology, told The Engineer magazine that the first clinical trials with human patients may happen in five years.
A key element of the technology involves blasting apart the microbubble shells using a focused high-energy ultrasound beam.
The bubbles, made from a biodegradable polyester material derived from corn starch, are about the size of a red blood cell. like balloons, they are largely filled with air, which allows them to burst more easily.
The researchers hope the “sound” of bubbles bursting in the body can be used to help doctors control drug dosage.
Philips is working with several partners including the University of Virginia in the US, where the treatment is being tested on mice.
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