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Researchers from UCLA reported localized delivery of chemotherapy through the guidance of external magnets for the treatment of liver cancer. When doxorubicin, a chemotherapy agent, is mixed with tiny particles containing Iron, a magnet placed on the outside of the patient’s body can be used to guide the chemotherapy directly to the area that contains cancer.

The liver is the largest organ in the body and is responsible for over 500 functions, including the secretion of glucose, proteins, vitamins and fats, the production of bile, the processing of hemoglobin and the detoxification of numerous substances. Primary liver cancer, sometimes called hepatocellular cancer or cholangiocarcinoma starts in cells of the liver and can spread, through blood or lymph vessels, to different parts of the body. Commonly, people with liver cancer already suffer from another disease that causes damage to the liver. The treatment of liver cancer depends on the size, and specific stage (extent of disease) of the cancer. Currently, the only curative treatment option for liver cancer is surgical resection (removal of the cancer). However, only a small percentage of patients are eligible for surgery because the majority of patients have cancer that has replaced too much of the liver or spread outside the liver to other parts of the body. Persons that have cancer that has spread are considered to have an advanced stage of cancer. Researchers continue to develop and study new methods of treatment in the hope of providing more effective treatment options for patients with advanced liver cancer.

When chemotherapy is used to treat advanced liver cancer, multiple approaches to administering the chemotherapy drugs may be considered. Recently, researchers have mixed chemotherapy drugs with magnetic targeted carriers, which are microscopic particles containing Iron. Iron is attracted to magnets and will collect in the area the magnet is located. The product MTC-DOX, contains doxorubicin mixed with magnetic targeted carriers, and is currently being tested in patients with primary advanced liver cancer. MTC-DOX is infused into an artery that supplies the liver with blood, and a magnet is placed outside the patient’s body over the liver near the cancer. This increases the chemotherapy dose to the cancer while sparing normal healthy tissue from it’s destructive side effects. MTC-DOX appears to stay in place even after the magnet is removed.

In a recent clinical trial, 14 patients with advanced liver cancer underwent treatment with MTC-DOX . Over 50% of these patients showed a positive response to the treatment. The results from this study indicate the efficacy of this new treatment approach. In the future, more effective drugs may be combined with magnetic targeted carriers to possibly further improve responses. Persons who have liver cancer may wish to talk to their physicians about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial utilizing magnetic targeted carriers or other promising new therapies.

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(25th annual meeting of the Society of Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology, March, 2000, San Diego, Ca).