Scientists have successfully created a jelly-like substance that can be used to fight off deadly cancer cells, without killing healthy cells along the way.
The jelly implant, which contains a central pocket of pure alcohol, works by slowly dissolving and releasing its potent ethanol cargo when injected into the body.
The team at Duke University, who worked on the study, say that while surgery remains the foundation of cancer treatment, this one-dimensional strategy poses challenges for patients in low-income countries.
While often treatable in developed countries, cancer remains a lethal diagnosis in many developing countries because 68% of patients don’t have access to anesthesia machines and constant electricity required to perform operations.
So instead we need to look at low-cost alternative therapies that require no specialised equipment and can be administered locally.
Researchers have long known that using ethanol is a powerful treatment to ‘drown cancer’ as it is able to poison the protein cells needed to replicate, and can yield five-year survival rates.
However, this has been problematic because it doesn’t just poison cancerous cells, but also healthy surrounding cells.
So use has so far been confined to cancers within fibrous capsules that prevents alcohol leaking out. For example, small liver tumours, pancreatic tumours, tumours on the adrenal gland and pelvic lymph nodes.
Not only that, but it takes large amounts of ethanol to completely eradicate tumour cells.
In order to address these problems the team developed a new way of administering the ethanol, stored inside a jelly-like substance.
The jelly was made from ethyl cellulose, a substance made from wood pulp or cotton that is used as a thickening agent in the food industry and to coat medicines.
Injected into hamsters who had malignant tumours in their pouch cheeks, they found that over eight days, the treatment was 100% effective on relatively large lesions up to 5 cm in diameter.
The team said: “As controls, pure ethanol injections of either four times or one-fourth the tumour volume induced complete regression of 33% and 0% of tumours, respectively.
“In contrast, ethyl cellulose-ethanol injections of one-fourth the tumor volume induced complete regression in 100% of tumors.”
Not only was it effective, it also required a fraction of the ethanol injected in non-gel implants, and is very cheap at £1.50 a gallon for ethanol.
They hope that it can be used in the future for treating pre-cancerous lesions on the cervix and potentially breast cancer.