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Scientists ‘cure cancer in mice’ by injecting lung and intestinal tumors with small copper particles

Scientists’ cure cancer in mice ‘by injecting lung and intestinal tumors with tiny toxic copper particles and supercharging the animals’ immune system

  • Researchers used small amounts of metal that are known to be toxic to cells
  • They injected it into tumors and strengthened the immune system for a double effect
  • When tumor cells were injected back into the body, the body fought them off

Scientists have succeeded in curing cancer – and preventing it from returning – in mice using small metal particles of copper.

In one experiment, a group of laboratory mice that had contracted cancer were injected with specially created copper oxide particles.

Copper oxide is derived from copper and oxygen and the researchers turned it into nanoparticles – hundreds of times thinner than human hair.

They injected this into tumors and gave the mice immunotherapy, a powerful treatment that is already being used by doctors.

The cancers disappeared and when cancer cells were injected again into the bodies of the animals, the immune system immediately destroyed them.

Research in humans is the next step for scientists, who hope that the treatment can replace heavy chemotherapy for no less than 60 percent of the forms of cancer.

Although metal particles are known to be toxic to living cells, the scientists said they were able to use small amounts of them to specifically target cancer tumors and avoid healthy tissue (stock illustration of cancer cells)

Although metal particles are known to be toxic to living cells, the scientists said they were able to use small amounts of them to specifically target cancer tumors and avoid healthy tissue (stock illustration of cancer cells)

“If we were to take metal oxides in large quantities, they could be dangerous,” said Professor Stefaan Soenen and Dr. Bella Manshian, from KU Leuven University in Belgium, who worked together on the research.

“But they can even be beneficial at the nanoscale and at controlled, safe concentrations.”

Professor Soenen added: ‘As far as I know, this is the first time that metal oxides are used to efficiently fight cancer cells with long-lasting immune effects in living models.

“As a next step, we want to make other metal nanoparticles and identify which particles affect which types of cancer.”

The mice in the study had lung and colon cancers and the scientists suggested that copper oxide could work for breast and ovarian forms of the disease, among other things.

Metals are known to be toxic to living cells and cause physical damage, disrupt DNA, and stop normal reproduction.

This is one of the reasons why air pollution is so harmful, and also why exposure to lead can cause serious illnesses, for example.

By utilizing small amounts of this danger and targeting it directly at cancer tumors, researchers were able to destroy specific tumors.

And they combined treatment with immunotherapy, which is a medical way to release the body’s own immune system and the ability of white blood cells to destroy a tumor.

The body is capable of breaking down cancers itself, but can be stopped to prevent it from reacting excessively and damaging healthy tissue.

Immunotherapy is becoming more common because it means that patients can be treated without chemotherapy, which often has paralyzing side effects.

People who use chemo may lose their hair, become extremely weak and brittle, lose weight, vomit and may be so ill that they cannot tolerate it at all, which can cause the cancer to grow.

Professor Soenen added: ‘Nanomedicine is growing in the US and Asia, but Europe is lagging behind.

‘It is a challenge to move forward in this area, because doctors and engineers often speak a different language.

“We need more interdisciplinary collaboration so that we can better understand each other and build on each other’s knowledge.”

The KU Leuven researchers collaborated with others from the University of Bremen, the Leibniz Institute of Materials Engineering and the University of Ioannina, in Greece.

Their paper was published in the prestigious German chemistry magazine Angewandte Chemie International Edition.


It works by utilizing the immune system and recognizing and attacking cancer cells. It is normally given via an infusion.

Some types of immunotherapy are also referred to as targeted treatments or biological therapies.

One could receive immunotherapy alone or with other cancer treatments.

The immune system protects the body against infections, diseases and disorders. It can also protect against cancer development.

The immune system includes the lymph nodes, spleen and white blood cells.

Normally it can detect and destroy defective cells in the body, thereby stopping the development of cancer. But cancer can develop when:

  • the immune system recognizes cancer cells, but it is not strong enough to kill the cancer cells
  • the cancer cells produce signals that prevent the immune system from attacking it
  • the cancer cells hide or escape from the immune system

Types of immunotherapy

Cancer treatments do not always fit easily into a certain type of treatment.

This is because some drugs or treatments work in more than one way and belong to more than one group.

For example, a type of immunotherapy called checkpoint inhibitors is also described as a monoclonal antibody or targeted treatment.

CAR T cell therapy

This treatment changes the genes in a person’s white blood cells (T cells) to recognize and kill cancer cells.

Changing the T cell in this way is called genetic manipulation of the T cell.

It is available as a possible treatment for some children with leukemia and some adults with lymphoma.

People with other types of cancer can have it as part of a clinical trial.

Monoclonal antibodies (MABs)

MABs recognize and attach to specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells.

Antibodies are found naturally in our blood and help us fight infection. MAB therapies mimic natural antibodies, but are made in a laboratory.

Monoclonal all means one type. Each MAB therapy therefore consists of many copies of one type of antibody.

MABs work in different ways as immunotherapy. They can do one of the following things:

  • activate the immune system
  • help the immune system to attack cancer

MABs activate the immune system by attaching to proteins on cancer cells.

This makes it easier for the cells of the immune system to find and attack the cancer cells.

This process is called antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC).

Checkpoint inhibitors are MABs that work by helping the immune system to attack cancer cells.

Cancer can sometimes press a stop button on the immune cells so that the immune system will not attack them.

Checkpoint inhibitors block cancer from pressing the stop button.


Cytokines are a group of proteins in the body that play an important role in stimulating the immune system.

Interferon and interleukin are types of cytokines found in the body. Scientists have developed man-made versions of these to treat some types of cancer.

Source: Cancerresearchuk.org