Two researchers from the Institut Gustave-Roussy in France and the University of California, Berkeley found that freezing cancer cells in test tubes made them far more vulnerable to attack by bleomycin, a potent anti-cancer drug also known by the brand name Blenoxane.
Cryosurgery - freezing cells to destroy them - and bleomycin are approved treatments currently used separately for cancer patients. But researchers of the study, published Tuesday, May 14, in the British Journal of Cancer, say that combining the two therapies may eventually lead to a powerful new form of cancer treatment that targets malignant cells while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.
"Cryosurgery has become increasingly popular over the past decade and is being used to treat tens of thousands of cancer patients all over the world," said Boris Rubinsky, professor of bioengineering and mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study.
In the procedure, cryosurgeons insert a thin probe cooled with a cryogen - often argon gas or liquid nitrogen - into a tumor, turning the malignant mass into an ice ball. Doctors see precisely where they are operating in real time and can thus avoid freezing healthy tissue through the use of ultrasound imaging, a technique pioneered by Rubinsky and former UC San Francisco physician Gary Onik in 1981.
"The neat thing is this research really could have clinical applicability in a very rapid matter," said Onik, currently the director of surgical imaging at Florida Hospital Celebration Health's Center for Surgical Advancement in Orlando, and one of the reviewers of the study. "However, it is critical that we first conduct animal model studies so that we better understand the parameters and risks involved in using cryochemotherapy treatment in humans," he said.