MRI in the driver’s seat: Scanners steer tumor-targeting virus inside the body

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Cell-based therapies that exploit modified human cells to treat cancer have been a promising area of research, but issues remain. Specifically, the driver-less cells are difficult to target, especially in tissues deep in the body.

These therapies may gain a new sense of direction, however, thanks to an international team of researchers investigating whether the magnetic field of MRI scanners could be used to direct a tumor-smashing virus toward its target.

A recent preclinical study, published in Nature Communications, is offering an early glimpse at the technique’s potential.

“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 lead researcher Munitta Muthana, PhD, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Oncology, in a statement.

Muthana and colleagues took macrophages carrying an oncolytic virus, Seprehvir, and magnetically labelled them with super-paramagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIOS). Using pulsed magnetic field gradients, the researchers were able to non-invasively steer the cells in the direction of tumor sites in mice.

By targeting the cells using SPIOs, the study demonstrated an eight-fold increase in the effects of the therapy.

“This not only increases the therapeutic efficacy but also decreases the risk of unwanted side effects,” said Muthana. “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.”

In addition to the University of Sheffield, the University of Florida and University College London also collaborated in the research.