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Magnetic Nanoparticles: Suitable For Cancer Therapy?

May 31, 2008
Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt
A new measuring procedure can help to investigate in some detail the behavior of magnetic nanoparticles which are used for cancer therapy.

Atomic force microscopic image of magnetic nanoparticles of cobalt ferrite. The diagram shows the size distribution.
Credit: Image courtesy of Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt

A measuring procedure developed in the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) can help to investigate in some detail the behaviour of magnetic nanoparticles which are used for cancer therapy.

Magnetic nanoparticles (with a size of some few to several hundred nanometres) are a new, promising means of fighting cancer. The particles serve as a carrier for drugs: "loaded" with the drugs, the nanoparticles are released into the blood stream, where they move until they come under the influence of a targeting magnetic field which holds them on to the tumour - until the drug has released its active agent. Besides this pharmaceutical effect, also a physical action can be applied: an electromagnetic a.c. field heats up the accumulated particles so much that they destroy the tumour. Both therapeutic concepts have the advantage of largely avoiding undesired side effects on the healthy tissue.

These procedures have already been successfully been applied in the animal model and have, in part, already been tested on patients. Here it is important to know before application whether the particles tend to aggregate and thus might occlude blood vessels. Information about this can be gained by magnetorelaxometry developed at the PTB. In this procedure, the particles are shortly magnetised by a strong magnetic field in order to measure their relaxation after the switch-off of the field by means of superconducting quantum interferometers, so-called "SQUIDs".

Conclusions on their aggregation behaviour in these media can be drawn from measurements of suspensions of nanoparticles in the serum or in whole blood. As an example, it could be shown in this way that certain nanoparticles in the blood serum form clusters with a diameter of up to 200 nm - a clear indication of aggregation, so that these nanoparticles do not appear to be suitable for therapy

At present, the high technical effort connected with the use of helium-cooled magnetic field sensors is still standing in the way of using this method routinely in practice. In a joint project with Braunschweig Technical University supported by the Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the procedure is currently being transferred to a simpler technology based on fluxgate magnetometers.

The results of the first orders from customers have served, for example, to optimise the paint drying process in the automobile industry, the thermal design of furnaces as well as the monitoring of glass forming processes.

Another measuring facility is currently being set up in the PTB which will allow emissivity measurements to be performed under vacuum conditions in an extended temperature and wavelength range - in particular for space applications.

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Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt. "Magnetic Nanoparticles: Suitable For Cancer Therapy?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 May 2008. <>.
Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt. (2008, May 31). Magnetic Nanoparticles: Suitable For Cancer Therapy?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 27, 2017 from
Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt. "Magnetic Nanoparticles: Suitable For Cancer Therapy?." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 27, 2017).