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Using magnetically controlled nanoparticles to force tumour cells to 'self-destruct' sounds like science fiction, but could be a future part of cancer treatment, according to research from Lund University in Sweden.

"The clever thing about the technique is that we can target selected cells without harming surrounding tissue. There are many ways to kill cells, but this method is contained and remote-controlled", said Professor Erik Renström.

The point of the new technique is that it is much more targeted than trying to kill cancer cells with techniques such as chemotherapy. "Chemotherapy can also affect healthy cells in the body, and it therefore has serious side-effects. Radiotherapy can also affect healthy tissue around the tumour.

"Our technique, on the other hand, is able to attack only the tumour cells", said Enming Zhang, one of the first authors of the study. In brief, the technique involves getting the nanoparticles into a tumour cell, where they bind to lysosomes, the units in the cell that perform 'cleaning patrols'. The lysosomes have the ability to break down foreign substances that have entered a cell. They can also break down the entire cell through a process known as 'controlled cell death', a type of destruction where damaged cells dissolve themselves.

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