First Australian use of 'neutron bomb for tumour cells' on cancer in pancreas

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    First Australian use of 'neutron bomb for tumour cells' on cancer in pancreas

    February 8, 2015

    Australian doctors are "zapping" difficult to reach tumours with electric currents in the hope it will cure some cancers or stem their growth.

    Last month, Sydney man Adel Hanna became the first person in Australia to have a tumour in his pancreas treated with the technique known as the "nanoknife" during surgery at Epworth Freemasons Hospital in Melbourne.

    The treatment usually involves two thin needles being inserted into a tumour so high-voltage electric currents can be passed through them. The pulses - delivered in between heartbeats to prevent the heart from being shocked - kill the tumour cells, leaving the body to naturally replace them with healthy tissue.

    Director of radiology at the Alfred Hospital, Ken Thomson, said the technology was exciting because unlike other cancer treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy, it did not tend to damage other parts of the body.

    "It's kind of like a neutron bomb for tumour cells," he said. "The main benefit is that there is no collateral damage."  

    While the nanoknife has been used to treat hundreds of kidney and liver tumours in a trial at the Alfred Hospital without surgery being required to open people up, Professor Thomson said Mr Hanna's tumour was so precariously positioned across his pancreas, he had to be operated on to properly expose it to the electrodes.

    After getting the experimental operation approved by an ethics committee, Professor Thomson said surgeon Neil Collier agreed to operate on Mr Hanna at Epworth. He said the two-hour procedure had gone very well.

    "It was really new. We've never done that before ...  we're hoping his tumour will certainly stop growing and hopefully it will shrink," he said.  

    Mr Hanna said he was thrilled to find doctors willing to use the technique on him because six months ago, he was told that nothing more could be done and that he might have six months to a year to live.

    The devastating news sparked a global search for more options, leading him to Professor Thomson.

    While Mr Hanna was scared of having an experimental procedure, he was relieved to hear that 80 to 90 per cent of his tumour had been eliminated by the "nanoknife" which is also called Irreversible Electroporation (IRE).

    "I feel so much better ... This could open up a whole new ball game," he said.

    After living day to day before the operation, Mr Hanna said he was now confident of attending his son's wedding in March and enjoying more time with his family.

    "I think it shows you should never give up," he said.

    Professor Thomson said while his unit at the Alfred was performing the technique on suitable patients from time to time, there was not enough evidence to make it a first-line treatment for people with cancer yet.

    "We'd like to see it used more widely when we have more data to prove to people that it's more appropriate [than other treatments], he said.
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