Saturday, July 06, 2013

July 6, 2013 - Healing Bubbles

OK, I’ll admit this sounds a little wacky, but evidently it’s the real deal.

Researchers at Oxford are investigating ways of treating cancer with bubbles.

Yes, bubbles.

It’s a new way of delivering chemo drugs: inside tiny bubbles injected into the bloodstream.

Now, before you start quoting your favorite Agatha Christie novel featuring some nefarious murderer whose m.o. is injecting air bubbles into the victim’s blood, let me make clear that these are very tiny bubbles — so small as to cause no difficulty as they pass through blood vessels.

The goal of this novel treatment is to reduce chemo’s side effects. If the toxic chemicals are carried inside bubbles, the researchers at Oxford’s Biomedical Ultrasonics, Biotherapy and Biopharmaceuticals Laboratory (BUBBL) reason, they’re less likely to do harm to healthy tissue.

(Yes, that acronym was “BUBBL.” Nice to see scientists with a sense of humor.)

Once the bubbles reach their target, technicians direct a focused ultrasound beam at the tumor, which evidently makes the bubbles floating by adhere to the surface. Then, they zap the clusters of bubbles with a higher-intensity ultrasound signal, bursting them and spreading the chemo agents all over the tumor.

Quite apart from the chemo-laden bubbles, this same researching team is learning that highly-focused ultrasound beams can cause bubbles to form in living tissue. The article from Oxford Today, the University’s alumni/ae magazine, describes how this works:

“A transducer — the device which creates the sound beam can send a high frequency sound wave into the body, creating pressures at the focus capable of causing spontaneous formation of bubbles. As the pressure is quickly varied, those bubbles expand and contract rapidly, and their motion creates such large increases in temperature that a section of cancerous tissue about the size of a grain of rice is effectively cooked and killed. By repeating that process it’s possible to destroy entire tumours — without ever cutting a patient open.”

We’ve been hearing for some time about a technology known as Cyber Knife — a highly focused radiation beam that can fry tumors without invasive surgery. Now, it seems, bubbles can do something very similar.

And who thought bubbles were just a kids’ toy?