New Delhi: Scientists have come up with a new technology that paves the way for safer and cheaper diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Under a project funded by the department of biotechnology, scientists have turned nano-particles of calcium phosphate—a bio mineral naturally found in human bones—into fully biodegradable radio frequency (RF) agents that can be imaged in MRI and CT scans.

The project was executed by Kochi’s Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences.

“Calcium phosphate is naturally found in human bones and is non-toxic and fully biodegradable. Now that its nanoparticles have been made imageable by MRI and CT scans, their accumulation in tumours can be verified and the MRI contrast used for image-guided surgical treatment of cancer,” said Shanti Nair, director, Centre for Nanosciences and Molecular Medicine, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences.

Currently, the most common treatment for cancer involves radiation and use of gamma rays to kill cancer cells. However, this inflicts collateral damage—healthy cells also get destroyed along with cancer cells. Radiation treatment with a cyber-knife is much more precise, but very expensive.

In this situation, the most easily accessible and cheapest cancer treatment available today uses radio frequency RF microwaves. But for this method to work, the RF agent should be non-toxic to the human body and preferentially accumulated in the tumour.

“The main advantage of calcium phosphate is that our body does not treat it as foreign material, leading to minimum toxicity and immune rejection compared to other engineered nano particles which are non-biodegradable. It can be guided precisely to cancer tumours, which will enable their treatment under image guidance, using radio waves to heat up and destroy the cancerous cells. We are now conducting large animal studies, after which clinical trials will follow,” said Manzoor Koyakutty, the project’s key principal investigator.

“Image guided therapy using biodegradable material such as calcium phosphate is very attractive from the clinical perspective. It will allow doctors to treat cancer patients with precision,” he said.