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"Opening" tumor cells with electric fields: at Rizzoli in Bologna a new technique for treatment of bone metastases, already applied to patients

7 April 2010
Prof. Roberto Giardino and Milena Fini, MD

Prof. Roberto Giardino and Milena Fini, MDElectrodes inserted in the altered tissue form electric fields that “open” pores of the cellular membrane allowing an easier and increased entrance of antitumor drugs in tumor cells.
This technique presented tomorrow as a National preview has already been applied clinically to patients with bone metastases.

“By electroporation, this is the name of the technique which we brought from preclinical phase to the patient, the antiblastic drug, that is the drug that eliminates the tumor, enters tumor cells directly with an enhanced efficacy only in the areas interested by the electric field” explains Milena Fini, Coordinator of the Specialistic Referral Center for Studies on Preclinical Technologies and Innovative Therapies of Rizzoli, who coordinated the experiments with IGEA, a firm from Carpi that produces the l’apparatus used for the new technique, with the contribution of the Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna Foundation and that of the Ministry of Economic Development.

“Two are the positive consequences: first of all the efficacy of treatment increases, tumor cells die “more”, and the bone structure remains unchanged. This means that the bone after treatment is reconstituted with healthy cells, thus avoiding the so-called “collapse”, caused by traditional ablative therapies (those that to attack metastases massively alter bone biomechanics) which impose further invasive interventions, for example with cement injections, to support the weaken bone”.

Before the experimentation at Rizzoli the mechanism was used for limited applications only on soft tissues (e.g. for primary and metastatic skin tumors). The Bologna research group – comprising researchers from the Laboratory of Preclinical and Surgical Studies, directed by Roberto Giardino, and the orthopaedic surgeons Mercuri, Boriani, Bianchi, Campanacci, Gasbarrini, who conducted the clinical experiments and together with the surgical pathologist Alberghini – managed to create, by a fine tuning of the technology, an electric field suitable to bone tissue, saving the muscular, vascular and nervous tissues. Further ongoing studies are being performed at the Laboratory to use this technique also in tumor lesions of other organs like liver and pancreas, opening the way to an innovative possibility of cure for tumors that have a high mortality rate or are located in sites where surgery is not feasible.

The Meeting held tomorrow Thursday April 8th at 2 p.m. in the Aula Magna of the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute Research Center in Bologna (via di Barbiano 1/10), will be opened by the Rizzoli Scientific Director Francesco Antonio Manzoli and will present the preclinical and clinical experimentation that led to the success of electoporation in the treatment of bone metastases.

Some Data

  • Bone metastases are secondary tumors, that develop in bone tissue following a tumor located in other parts of the body.
  • They affect all age ranges, differing in this from primary tumors of bone that mainly affect a young population. 
  • In Europe per year there are 1.100.000 cases of bone metastases.
  • Bone metastases are very painful, induce reduced motion, lead to fractures, cause neurologic complications (when the spine is involved and thus spinal marrow and nerves can be compromised). 
  • On July 8th, 2009, at Rizzoli in Bologna for the first time ever a patient with bone metastases was treated by electroporation.

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