25-01-2023 | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, a new UK startup, QV Bioelectronics, has secured over £2m in funding for developing an Implantable Electric Field Therapy (EFT) device capable of treating cancers via controlled electric fields. The Implantable EFT device is a Medical breakthrough that uses EFT technology to interfere with the cancer cell division, which in turn can change patient outcomes. What challenges does cancer treatment present, how can electric fields be used to control cancer growth, and how would such treatment methods change patient outcomes?
What challenges does cancer treatment present?
Over the past two hundred years, life expectancy has massively increased thanks to advances in medical sciences and technology, but as dying is a natural part of life, something must eventually kill us. In the past, this could result from famine, diseases, and childbirth. Now that most of these historical factors have been solved, modern leading causes for death are more obscure and more complex to identify, such as hereditary heart conditions. But another leading cause of death is cancer; unlike old age, cancer can affect anyone at any age (however, many cancers typically come about as a result of ageing).
When a cancer diagnosis is made, treatment options are available, and the survival rate depends on how early the cancer is caught and where the cancer is located. Generally speaking, the earlier cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of survival are, as cancer is less likely to spread to other body parts (i.e., metastasized). At the same time, smaller cancers are easier to operate on and remove, but this isn’t always the case if the cancer is in an inoperable area (such as the brain).
Besides operating, cancers can also be treated with radiotherapy, including ingesting radioactive compounds that bind to the cancer cells and directed proton beams that blast the cells with radiation. Either way, the goal of radiation treatment is to use high-energy particles to destroy the DNA of cancer cells so that they die. At the end of the day, cancer is nothing more than a cell that multiplies out of control.
But while radiotherapies can be effective, they can be highly destructive to the rest of the body and are difficult to experience as the radiation can make hair fall out, induce severe nausea, and make patients feel extremely exhausted. This is why some diagnosed with late staged cancers will sometimes refuse treatment and just live the rest of their lives in relative comfort instead of trying to fight off cancer and live their last days in pain.
UK startup aims to develop implantable electric field therapy devices for cancer treatment
Recently, a UK startup called QV Bioelectronics has announced that it has raised over £2m for developing an experimental treatment option that implants electric field generators near cancer cells designed to target and kill cancer cells.
While the mechanism behind Electric Field Therapy (EFT) is somewhat complex, the idea behind EFT is that when cells divide, the mechanism that drives cell division relies on electrostatic fields generated by chemical compounds such as proteins. As cells are particularly vulnerable during division, it is believed that a strong external electric field during this division interrupts the process, thereby killing the cell. While this area of study is still being developed, a number of research papers have demonstrated promising results on Glioblastoma cancers (found in the brain) being reduced as a result of EFT.
QV Bioelectronics aims to take this technology and create an implantable device that can be used on inoperable cancers. While such a device may not be able to 100% eliminate such cancers, it could provide a better quality of life for those wanting to extend their life expectancy while avoiding other treatment options, such as radiotherapy. At the same time, as cancer cells divide aggressively (compared to normal cells), EFT should have minimal effect on healthy tissue, and some research even indicates that choosing specific electric field frequencies can target cancer cells only.
How could such treatment change patient outcomes in the future?
If such devices are able to slow down cancer growth in inoperable areas, it could very well provide patients with additional time for other aggressive treatments to work. For example, if a large tumour is found, electric fields can first be used to prevent cancer from growing any further, while radiotherapy is used over a longer period of time to ensure the complete destruction of cancer cells. At the same time, it may even be possible for implanted EFT devices to allow smaller radiotherapy doses which would reduce their horrendous side effects.
Overall, these devices are still in their infancy, and it will be several years before data on their effectiveness against human cancers becomes available. However, if the research papers surrounding the topic are correct, then implantable EFTs could become a major treatment option for patients in the future.