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Can an electromagnetic field be used to prevent spread of breast cancer cells?

A new study from Ohio State University examined whether electromagnetic fields could be used to prevent the spread of breast cancer cells to other parts of the body.

Metastasis, or the spread of cancer cells to new areas of the body by way of the lymph system is responsible for almost 90 percent of cancer-related deaths. Understanding the metastasis of cancer cells is a critical area of cancer research and researchers around the world are finding ways to help prevent the spread of cancer cells.

Metastatic breast cancer can be fatal

All breast cancers start in the breast tissue when the breast cells grow out of control. When breast cancer is metastatic, it has traveled from the breast tissue to other parts of the body such as lungs, bones, liver, or brain. The ability of cancer cells to migrate can turn curable cancer into a fatal one. Researchers are, therefore, finding ways to prevent the spread of breast cancer cells with an aim to slow down or stop cancer growth.

New research team builds a tool to prevent the spread of breast cancer cells

The speed at which breast cancer cells migrate to different parts of the body differs between individuals and there is no possibility to determine when and how the cells will mutate. However, cell migration has been extensively studied by scientists for many years and its role in cancer metastasis is gaining significance in recent years.

A team of researchers from Ohio State University discovered that low-intensity electromagnetic fields can be used to prevent the spread of breast cancer cells. The study, published in the journal Communications Biology, used breast cancer cells grown in a laboratory. The researchers built a tool called a Helmholtz coil that was used to apply an even amount of electromagnetic energy to different types of breast cells. They built another instrument that could track the direction of the movement of these cells and show how various fields affected cell-spreading behavior. According to the researchers, this apparatus mimicked what actually happens in the human body in a controllable environment.

The electromagnetic field impacted the shape and movement of resistant cancer cells

The researchers were able to show that low-intensity electromagnetic fields reduced the mobility of certain types of breast cancer cells by preventing the formation of long thin extensions at the edges of migrating breast cancer cells.

The most challenging cells were the most responsive

The triple-negative metastatic breast cancer cells are different from other cancer cells since they do not have estrogen receptor,  progesterone receptor, or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 genes. Since most cancer treatments work by targeting these receptors, the triple-negative cancer cells are resistant to most of these therapies because of the absence of the receptors.

In this study, the triple-negative breast cancer cells were the most responsive to the electromagnetic field. The researchers suggested that electromagnetic energy in combination with specific drug therapies could have a significant impact on the spread of triple-negative breast cancer cells.

Although the study was done on cells in a lab and still needs to be validated in animals and finally in humans, the researchers are optimistic about the important study finding that the breast cancer cells become profoundly less metastatic in response to the electromagnetic field. It might be a long way before electromagnetic fields can be used effectively to prevent the spread of breast cancer cells in the human body, nevertheless, these findings mark a major step forward in metastatic breast cancer research.

Written by Preeti Paul, MS Biochemistry

Reference: Ayush Arpit Garg et al., Electromagnetic fields alter the motility of metastatic breast cancer cells. Communications Biology 2, Article number:303 (2019)

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Preeti Paul MSc
Preeti Paul MSc
Preeti has a Master’s degree in Biochemistry. Her career interests include scientific services and clinical research. She is passionate about the dissemination of scientific information to the public. As a medical content writer, Preeti aims to be instrumental in shaping the transmission of scientific advances to the general public so that they can make informed decisions. In her free time, she likes to travel, cook and advocate toxin-free living.
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