Scientists have discovered that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, normally used to produce images, can be used steer cell-based, tumor busting therapies to specific target sites in the body. An international team of researchers have now found MRI scanners can non-invasively steer cells that have been injected with tiny super-paramagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIOs) to both primary and secondary tumor sites within the body. These findings were published in Nature Communications (2015; doi:10.1038/ncomms9009).

MRI scanners have been used since the 1980s to take detailed images inside the body, which helps doctors to make a medical diagnosis and investigate the staging of a disease.

This new targeted approach is extremely beneficial for patients as it dramatically increases the efficiency of treatment, and drug doses could potentially be reduced, helping to alleviate side effects.

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Revolutionary cell-based therapies that exploit modified human cells to treat diseases such as cancer have advanced greatly over recent years. However, targeted application of cell-based therapy in specific tissues, such as those lying deep in the body where injection is not possible, has remained problematic.

The new research, led by Munitta Muthana, PhD, from the Department of Oncology of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, suggests that MRI scanners are the key to administering treatments directly to both primary and secondary tumors wherever they are located in the body.

The study showed that cancer mouse models injected with immune cells carrying SPIOs and armed with the cancer-killing oncolytic virus (OV), which infects and kills cancer cells, showed an 800% increase in the effects of the therapy.

“Our results suggest that it is possible to use a standard MRI scanner to naturally deliver cell-based therapies to both primary and secondary tumors which would normally be impossible to reach by injection,” said Muthana. “This not only increases the therapeutic efficacy but also decreases the risk of unwanted side effects.

“The beauty of using the MRI scanner to administer the therapy is that you can also use it for its original purpose providing a real-time image-guide to ensure the treatment has gone where it is needed.”