Hopkins scientists, led by Robert H. Getzenberg, Ph.D., and Theodore L. DeWeese, M.D., are developing a new way to make hidden, metastatic prostate cancer cells more sensitive to effective treatment.
Heat weakens a cancer cell,
undermines its internal
structure, and makes it ripe for
Their novel approach — called TEMT, for Thermal Enhanced Metastatic Therapy — may have found cancer’s Achilles heel: Heat.
Heating cancer cells makes them vulnerable. It’s like opening a window or, if you were watching a movie like "Star Wars," temporarily lowering the enemy’s force field. Weaken the cancer cells, and then go in for the kill, with radiation, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy: Heat makes cancer much more susceptible to all three approaches.
This concept started when Don Coffey, Ph.D. (click here for details), was inspired by what happened to cyclist Lance Armstrong. Armstrong nearly died as a young man, because his body was riddled with advanced cancer; testicular cancer had spread to his brain, liver, and elsewhere. For years, Coffey has marveled at Armstrong’s recovery, as he has tried to understand how it happened. Not only was Armstrong’s cancer cured, he recovered well enough to win the grueling Tour de France seven times. The secret, Coffey believes, was heat — which testicular cells don’t tolerate well at all. This is why the testicles are separate from the body; the slight distance keeps them cooler, below normal body temperature. Because testicular cells are already more sensitive to heat, when they move inside the body as the cancer spreads, they’re that much weaker, and easier to kill.
It turns out that heating a cell changes the organization of DNA, and undermines its internal structure as well as modifying the nuclear matrix (which Coffey discovered years ago)."It appears that we can increase the efficacy of the currently utilized treatments for metastatic cancers," says Getzenberg, the Brady’s research director. He and DeWeese, Chairman of Radiation Oncology and Molecular Radiation Science, along with scientists Shawn Lupold, Ph.D., Prakash Kulkarni, Ph.D., and others are exploring the molecular mechanisms that underlie these amazing examples of healing. Their work has revealed a new physical approach to cancer that permits the direct delivery of ultra-precise, low levels of heat to cancer cells. They have found a temperature that makes the cancer cells ripe for further therapy.
Lupold (see details) synthesized RNA homing molecules — think of microscopic, heat-sensitive missiles — that can direct tiny heating elements directly to the surface of the prostate cancer cells. "These extremely small elements are high-tech iron nanoparticles," explains Getzenberg. "A pioneer in how to heat these particles, by using external magnets, is a new faculty member, Robert Ivkov." Ivkov, Ph.D., is a biophysical chemist in Radiation Therapy and Molecular Radiation Sciences. "We can all be excited as this expert team tunes this new therapeutic approach to seek and destroy hidden nests of metastasis in men with advanced prostate cancer."
Bottom Line: Heat Weakens Cancer
Heat makes hidden, metastatic prostate cancer cells more sensitive to radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.