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Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 22:46 GMT
NI firm in cancer 'breakthrough'
Cancer under microscope
The technique was used on cancerous cells
Scientists at a Northern Ireland company say they have developed a technique that could be used to treat cancer without surgery.

Researchers at Gendel, based at Coleraine in County Londonderry, used an electric field and ultrasound to kill tumours in 50 mice, according to New Scientist magazine.

Gendel said it hoped to begin human trials of the procedure within two years.

"The technique relies on the application of an electric field to a tumour to make it susceptible to a follow-up blast of ultrasound," said New Scientist.

The tissue simply disappears and gets absorbed back into the body

Les Russell
Gendel
"The combination appears to cause tumour cells to self-destruct."

The technique was originally developed to help deliver drugs to inaccessible parts of the body using the patient's own red blood cells.

The cells are first sensitised and the application of an electrical field makes them permeable. The cells are then filled with the drug before being returned to the patient.

When the ultrasound is beamed, the sensitised cells burst open, delivering the drugs to the right place.

Scientists at Gendel found that if cancerous cells were sensitised, they also exploded when hit with an ultrasound beam.

Ultrasound mystery

New Scientist said the technique worked both in the laboratory and more recently on tumour cells in at least 50 mice.

Why the porous cells rupture when hit with ultrasound has not yet been established.

The scientists hope the system can be used to treat both accessible tumours, such as those on the skin, and those that are more difficult to reach.

Les Russell, co-founder of Gendel, said: "The tissue simply disappears and gets absorbed back into the body."

He said the aim was to produce a portable device that could treat a patient within five minutes.

A leading cancer charity highlighted the fact that many potential cancer treatments had shown promise in animals only to fail in humans.

A spokesman for Cancer Research UK said the development should be treated with "absolute caution".

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Dr Les Russell, chief executive of Gendel:
"We hope to access tumours that are not presently amenable"
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