TSUKUBA, IBARAKI PREF. – Mitsuhiro Ebara believes plastic sheets called “smart polymers” may one day prove to be a cheap solution to curing cancer.
Cancer is known to respond better to the simultaneous use of hyperthermia and chemotherapy, and Ebara, a researcher at the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, is working with his fellow researchers to develop technology using smart polymers, or plastics that respond to changes in the environment, such as temperature, pH, light and magnetic fields, to treat various diseases.
Using the polymers, which he hopes would be available even in developing countries, Ebara wants to create a medical technology that would be “accessible to anyone, anytime and anywhere,” replacing costly immunotherapy drugs like Opdivo with cheap materials like the plastics commonly found in ¥100 shops.
Like Ebara, researchers and startups in this renowned technology hub are tuning their technologies in medical and nursing care to cater to the nation’s graying society.
There are unlimited variations to smart polymers Ebara said. For instance, sugar-responsive polymers become soluble when mixed with sugar, meaning it can be used for diabetes treatment, while toxin-responsive polymers can be used to soak up certain toxins.
To treat cancer, doctors in this field first operate to remove tumors and other visible signs of the disease before applying a heat-responsive smart polymer sheet containing cancer-fighting drugs and magnetic nanoparticles directly to the affected area.
Doctors then use a device that produces a magnetic field to heat the particles, causing the sheet to contract and squeeze out the drug.
In a clinical test on mice, once-a-week 15-minute treatments applied over two months shrank lung cancer tumors to less than a tenth of their original size, according to NIMS.
Ebara expects his polymer method to double the effect that thermotherapy and chemotherapy have on specific spots.
The next step, he said, is to determine “how many cancer cells we can kill through the method.”
Read more: Smart polymers may one day cure cancer
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