'Electric hole-punch' could fight cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new technique developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, kills cancer cells by punching holes in their membranes with microsecond pulses of electricity.

The process, called 'electroporation', was first discovered in the 1970s, but since then most research has focused on creating temporary holes that can allow drugs or genes into cells before resealing.

Using slightly longer and stronger pulses opens permanent holes however, causing the cells to die.

The technique is an improvement over other non-invasive therapies, such as the use of either extreme heat or extreme cold, as it leaves the surrounding connective tissue 'scaffolding' intact.

This, say the researchers, allows healthy tissue to grow back much more quickly.

The technique has so far been trialled in animals but will require far more extensive testing before it could be used in humans, the researchers said.

"While we are obviously very excited about this advance in tumour ablation, we are in the early stages of our learning curve," said co-author Dr Gary Onik.

"We undoubtedly have much more to learn, and there is always the potential for unexpected results."

The study is published in Technology in Cancer Research and Treatment.