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Biotech China Medicine

Injecting Liquid Metal Into Blood Vessels Could Help Kill Tumors 111

KentuckyFC (1144503) writes One of the most interesting emerging treatments for certain types of cancer aims to starve the tumor to death. The strategy involves destroying or blocking the blood vessels that supply a tumor with oxygen and nutrients. Without its lifeblood, the unwanted growth shrivels up and dies. This can be done by physically blocking the vessels with blood clots, gels, balloons, glue, nanoparticles and so on. However, these techniques have never been entirely successful because the blockages can be washed away by the blood flow and the materials do not always fill blood vessels entirely, allowing blood to flow round them. Now Chinese researchers say they've solved the problem by filling blood vessels with an indium-gallium alloy that is liquid at body temperature. They've tested the idea in the lab on mice and rabbits. Their experiments show that the alloy is relatively benign but really does fill the vessels, blocks the blood flow entirely and starves the surrounding tissue of oxygen and nutrients. The team has also identified some problems such as the possibility of blobs of metal being washed into the heart and lungs. Nevertheless, they say their approach is a promising injectable tumor treatment.
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Injecting Liquid Metal Into Blood Vessels Could Help Kill Tumors

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well, The side effect might be you're going to die a horribly painful dead, but hey at least you're free from that god awful cancer...

    • I doubt the death would be painful, if it happened. At least, I can't see it being any more painful than chemo already is.

      With chemo there's always the debate over which is worse: the disease, or the cure? Most of the time chemo doesn't work, in which case I could see this being used instead.

      • Re:The side effect (Score:5, Informative)

        by pla ( 258480 ) on Tuesday August 12, 2014 @07:06AM (#47653669) Journal
        Most of the time chemo doesn't work, in which case I could see this being used instead.

        That myth hasn't held true for 30+ years.

        When used against appropriate cancers and caught early enough (which doesn't mean "before you have any reason to suspect you have a problem" anymore), chemo has a very high success rate, on the order of 90% and up. Bladder and testicular cancer, most skin cancers - considered almost perfectly curable. Most leukemias, either curable or sustainable.

        The question you pose applies more out of desperation than practicality. Very few people, when told they have an untreatable cancer, will decide to just sit down and die. No, they ask the doctor to try anything, however nasty, on the off chance it will work.

        We don't complain about antibiotics as a complete failure, despite the fact that they don't treat viruses. The same applies to cancer treatments: use the right drug at the right time.
        • I should have been explicit about context, but in a situation where using the light metals they described, you'd probably be in too far advanced of a stage that chemo would have a good chance of success.

          I'm not trying to be a conspiracy theorist and imply that chemo is just a ruse to make you more sick (believe me I've seen enough of those, including those alex jones types who believe that cancer is a fungus that is cured with baking soda but "they" don't want you to know this "inexpensive easy secret.")

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by qpqp ( 1969898 )
      You seem to live with the misconception that oncologists try to heal the patient (well, maybe some do). Their job is to get rid of cancer. Sadly.
      • by Megol ( 3135005 )

        Idiotic drivel.
        My mother have had 3 types of cancer (that is: of separate types not related to each other) and been cured of them all using different kinds of treatments.

        My father have a friend that had bone cancer in the cheek which was successfully removed surgically with chemo therapy afterwards to avoid spreading.

        A relative was diagnosed with throat cancer (she was a life-long smoker) and the first treatment planned was an operation to remove the main tumors, after opening her up it was discovered that

        • by qpqp ( 1969898 )
          Yeah, chemo and radiotherapy is so much *FUN* (especially with grade 3 and 4 types) !!
          What I meant was: when do we get our nano-bots that swim in the lymphatic and vascular systems and destroys any cancer that spreads already?
  • Actually... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Stephen Gilbert ( 554986 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @08:17PM (#47651889)

    Those tumors could be terminated.

    Thanks, I'll be here all week. Try the baklava!

  • this won't do well in primate/human safety trials.

    • this won't do well in primate/human safety trials.

      This is in China, though, where they still have a bit of a "Wild West" attitude regarding human safety.

    • Well, most workable "solutions" tend to have started with a crazy but creative idea, that gradually gets refined and other good ideas added to it until you get something that's acceptable.

      So, for example, you could imagine making the fluid magnetic, so you could then maybe guide it into position and then hold it there. But this brings another issue - you can hardly hold the patient in a strong magnetic field forever.

      So, then you could imagine adding some kind of slow-setting glue into the liquid that sets

  • I don't suppose anything will work at later stages where the cells are everywhere... especially not that.
    • by Megol ( 3135005 )

      Chemo is used for that. Hopefully we'll soon have drugs with better targeting of the tumor cells but hey, chemo have cured many people.

  • So.... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Possible wolverine on the horizon?

  • ...Robert Patrick simply smiled impishly as he replied, "no comment."
    • Offtopic??? Mods need to learn some history.

      He was the liquid metal bad guy in T2: Judgement Day.

      • by gmhowell ( 26755 )

        Offtopic??? Mods need to learn some history.

        He was the liquid metal bad guy in T2: Judgement Day.

        Oh, you must be talking about Alcide's father in True Blood #getoffmylawn

        (I rather liked him as the degenerate gambler in The Sopranos)

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        What does that have to do with history?

        • History of cinema - T2 was a seminal work of the late 20th century.

          In the context of 'liquid metal', Robert Patrick's portrayal of a next generation terminator was certainly on-topic, if shooting for a "Funny" moderation.

  • some "problems" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by asmkm22 ( 1902712 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @08:37PM (#47651983)

    Having blobs of liquid metal flowing to the heart seems like a show stopper to me. I'm intrigued by the old-school-mad-scientist aspect of this idea, but the potential risks seem a bit serious.

    • As opposed to the risks of literally inducing chemical and radiation poisoning?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @08:48PM (#47652017)

    "Have you seen this boy?"

  • I'm guessing that they're talking about benign tumours - how would this work with a malignant tumour or metastatic cancer?

    If you get the chance, watch "Autopsy - Life & Death". It's a bit gory, but well worth it for the explanation in one episode about the difference between benign and metastatic tumours.

  • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @08:51PM (#47652023) Homepage Journal

    Lots of things are relatively benign compared to cancer -- but I'm not sure this is one of them.

    • Qian and co first tested the cytotoxicity of gallium and indium by allowing cells to grow in its presence and measuring the number that survive after 48 hours. If more than 75 per cent, a substance is deemed safe by China’s national standards.

      After 48 hours just over 75 percent of cells in both samples were still alive

      The experiments also reveal a number of potential problems, however. X-rays of the rabbit they injected clearly show that blobs of liquid metal found their way to the animal’s heart and lungs.

      What’s more, their experiments also show blood vessel growth around the blocked arteries, revealing how quickly the body adapts to blockages.

      At least it's easy to conduct research in China. Maybe they'll find something.

      What I want to know is, why didn't they try wax or oil first?

      • by Jack9 ( 11421 )

        What's the effect of a strong magnet force on that mix? I'm not very familiar with magnetic properties of most metals, but maybe that could contain the metal or shape it that another process can be applied to fix it in place?

        • Most metals are not ferromagnetic, and so are not held in place by magnets. I'm pretty sure neither indium nor gallium are ferromagnetic.

          As they are good conductors, metals do develop eddy currents in a changing magnetic field, which heats them. (Try dropping a magnet through a narrow aluminium tube. The energy loss due to eddy currents will slow its fall considerably.) If you had this liquid metal inside you, having an MRI scan might be a really bad idea - I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the bits

          • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

            Most metals are not ferromagnetic, and so are not held in place by magnets. I'm pretty sure neither indium nor gallium are ferromagnetic.

            Most metals aren't, but the iron in your platelets is. Perhaps through carefully tuned EM fields, a natural clot could be formed in a novel way....

            I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the bits of you in contact with the metal could get cooked.

            I was reading an article a few years ago about doing precisely that—some kind of metal tending to bioaccumulate in tumors

          • Re: Not gonna happen (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Titanium, nitinol are almost irrelevant to mri. It is non ferromagnetic ( and has low permeability) , has high electrical resistance. As a result you get little magnetic force, little eddy current heating and little distortion of the magnetic field. As a result, there are no significant safety concerns and the images are only mildly distorted in the vicinity of the metal.

            Most surgical stainless steel (austentitic) is similar. There is higher magnetic susceptibility so image distortion is significant but a

          • If the heating effect you propose did occur, and the liquid could be well-localized to the tumor, then this might yield an interesting treatment option. If you could cook only the tumor, and not so much the surrounding area, then perhaps this could be beneficial, especially when combined with other treatments that stress the tumor at the same time (chemo, radiation)?
        • by gmhowell ( 26755 )

          Seeing as how we don't know how magnets work, I'm not sure we should add them to the mix.

  • Aside from the risks of what happens to the liquid metal after it's done its job, you also end up with a big lump of dead cells inside the body, which can't be good. On the other hand, presumably successful radiation therapy has the same result, and the result doesn't have to be 'good', it just has to be 'better than having a tumor'. Would someone with actual medical knowledge care to comment?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The body is quite capable of dealing with "big lumps of dead cells": over the course of the next few months, the ex-tumor will be broken down by the immune system.

  • by Tippler ( 3027557 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @08:55PM (#47652031)

    I'm a radiology resident who is at least moderately familiar with embolic agents.

    We already have a liquid embolic agent that solidifies slowly called Onyx. It is only approved for arteriovenous malformations in the central nervous system, but it is used off label for other indications, including tumor embolization: http://www.ajnr.org/content/34... [ajnr.org] [American Journal of Neuroradiology]. The English on the actual liquid metal article is pretty rough and I soon grew tired of trying to decipher it, but from what I did manage to read I cannot see this doing anything better than Onyx already does.

    With regards to embolization to the heart and pulmonary arteries, this happens occasionally with any embolic agent. The cardiovascular system, like the internet, is a series of tubes and the pulmonary capillaries are a fine network of blood vessels that routinely catch tiny blood clots without you even noticing it. It's big emboli that you need to worry about.

    • +1 for informative if I had it. Indium and Gallium are somewhat toxic, and ironically suspected as carcinogenic.
      http://amdg.ece.gatech.edu/msd... [gatech.edu]

      I wonder if the intent was for the metal to get absorbed and held in the tumor rather and slowly poison it more than restrict the blood flow.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's an alloy; just because the constituents are bad for you doesn't mean that their combination is. Neither sodium or chloride are exactly good for you, but we all need NaCl. I have done research on using Galinstan (a Gallium/Indium/Tin) liquid metal alloy for electronics cooling and one of the positive things about it is that it is deemed fairly safe, health-wise. Its main application is as a replacement for mercury in oral thermometers. If you happen to be made of copper or aluminum, it isn't very he

        • It's an alloy; just because the constituents are bad for you doesn't mean that their combination is. Neither sodium or chloride are exactly good for you, but we all need NaCl.

          Sodium chloride is a salt, not an alloy. The sodium and chlorine ions exist separately in your body. You can (and do) consume sodium safely without the chlorine as various other salts, for example sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).

          Pure sodium is unsafe for you because it converts to a powerful base, not because it is poisonous, and there is no alloy that would fix that (at best you could make it insoluble). But add any non-toxic acid to it and you're good.

    • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:22PM (#47652131) Journal
      The article claims the metal does a better job of blocking 100% of the blood flow supplying sustenance to the tumor than other available options, and is less likely to wash away.

      The researchers further posit that since the injected substance is metal, it is an ideal conductor for use as a method of delivery for electrical current to heat up and destroy the unwanted tissue.

      Are these plausibly benefits not afforded by existing techniques? I know we get a cancer cure story every fortnight or so, but I, for one, welcome the continued research even if it rarely pans out.

    • "The cardiovascular system, like the internet, is a series of tubes ..." I don't need an Internet analogy. I need a _car_ analogy. Dammit.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When all you need is Rick Simpson Oil

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I mailed beta-feedback@slashdot.org a while ago using a single-use mail address. Now I get recruitment spam.
    Beta is bad, spam is worse.

    Isn't it illegal to send commercial mail without opt-in? What can I do about this?

  • Perhaps a magnetic field could secure the position of a liquid metal alloy thus insuring that it doesn't drift to an unfortunate location.
  • I'm going to wait until someone who isn't essentially gambling with their patients' lives without informed consent can review these findings.

    • I'm going to wait until someone who isn't essentially gambling with their patients' lives without informed consent can review these findings.

      Why? Do unethical experiments (by western standards) somehow not work? If we listened to ALL the handwringers we couldn't even experiment on mice, or do nuclear tests on our own planet, and then were would we be?

      • by Chas ( 5144 )

        No, I'm just real big on rigorous peer review before allowing some guy to shoot shark piss up into my sinuses and dance around me holding a bunch of crystals before they fake pulling a bloody sheep's intestine out of me and tell me I'm "cured", but I should buy some snake oil just in case.

        And Chinese research has a bad habit of claiming a lot of non-reproducible experiments as scientific fact.

  • As I'm getting older, I want to say that I do not give my consent to have sodium metal injected. It might be a bit dangerous.
  • We cured your husband's cancer but we accidentally vegetablised him by blocking a few veins in his brain with liquid metal.
  • Terminator 2 called and claimed the patent rights on killing...

  • Dear God, why didn't we think of this sooner? It seems like great inventions are always like that -- so obvious that they're hiding in plain sight. It's like the paperclip, or One Click Payments! Obviously this got the old mental juices flowing, so here are some other things that I'm pretty sure can kill tumors:

    • The fainting game
    • Sufficient quantities of water
    • Ebola
    • Sharks
    • Ski accidents
    • Electricity
    • Heart attacks
    • Famine
    • Other tumors
  • Will the side effects simply lead to death in another way?
    Will the quality of the time bought, if any, be worth it?

  • "So this other guy: he's a cancer treatment like you, right?"
    "Not like me. Indium-Gallium, advanced prototype."
    "You mean more advanced than you are?"
    "Yes. A mimetic poly-alloy."
    "What the hell does that mean?"
    "Liquid metal."

Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.