Page last updated: January 3, 2018
Alcohol-based jelly implant could kill cancer cells

A study has found that a jelly-like implant made from alcohol could destroy cancerous tumours when injected into the body. It is hoped that the implant, developed at Duke University in North Carolina, which has only been tested on mice so far, could lead to alcohol being used more widely to treat cancerous tumours. The implant achieved a 100% success rate when trialed in mice.

“While surgery is at the foundation of cancer treatment, its access is limited in low-income countries,” said the researchers, “Here, we describe development of a low-cost alternative therapy based on intratumoral ethanol injection suitable for resource-limited settings.”

While using alcohol to “drown” cancer calls has been known to be an effective way of killing cancer cells, a large amount of alcohol is needed to have the desired effect. Furthermore, by injecting the body with pure ethanol, also risks destroying the healthy tissue surrounding the tumour. Consequently, the method has only been used on tumours that are contained within a ‘capsule’, preventing alcohol from leaking into the rest of the body.

This new implant goes some way to overcoming that problem, with small amounts of alcohol released over a longer period of time with a reduced the risk to neighbouring healthy cells.

“Scientists have already harnessed ethanol as a treatment for some cancers,” said Dr Justine Alford of Cancer Research UK. “In this study, they tweaked the technique to stop it leaking out from the tumour. If trials show it is safe and effective, it could be an option in the future for some cancers where surgery isn’t possible.”

To make the implant, scientists mixed ethanol with ethyl cellulose, widely used as a thickening agent in the food industry and to coat medicines, to create a jelly-like substance. This was then implanted directly into the middle of the tumours. As the implant comes into contact with moisture, it slowly dissolves over a period of a week, releasing tiny amounts of pure ethanol, which destroys tumour cells by poisoning vital proteins they need to replicate.

The alcohol-based jelly implant was tested on mice, and saw 100% of tumours disappear after eight days. Seven mice injected with the implant saw their tumours disappear, while of the seven mice whose tumour’s were simply injected with alcohol, four saw their tumours disappear.

Source: Development of enhanced ethanol ablation as an alternative to surgery in treatment of superficial solid tumors. R Morhard, C Nief, C Barrero Castedo, F Hu, M Madonna, JL. Mueller, MW. Dewhirst, D F. Katz & Nirmala Ramanujam Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 8750(2017) doi:10.1038/s41598-017-09371-2.

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