Biomedical engineers at Virginia Tech and the University of California Berkeley have developed a new minimally invasive method of treating cancer, and they anticipate clinical trials on individuals with prostate cancer will begin soon. The process is called irreversible electroporation (IRE). Electroporation is a phenomenon that increases the permeability of a cell from none, to a reversible opening, to an irreversible opening. With the latter, the cell will die. This irreversible concept was applied to the targeting of cancer cells.
IRE removes tumors by irreversibly opening tumor cells through a series of short, intense electric pulses from small electrodes placed in or around the body, which creates permanent openings in the pores in the cells of the undesirable tissue. The openings eventually lead to the death of the cells without the use of chemotherapy drugs.
Oncologists already use methods to destroy tumors using heat or freezing, but those techniques can damage healthy tissue or leave malignant cells. With IRE, researchers are able to adjust the electrical current and reliably kill the targeted cells. IRE is easy to apply, is not affected by local blood flow, and can be monitored and controlled using electrical impedance tomography.