Obstetricians on the maternity ward recommend expecting mothers take iron supplements to ensure a healthy infant after a strong pregnancy. Across the hospital, a radiologist examines a young baseball player’s MRI for signs of a concussion.
In both of these situations, magnetite plays a vital role. In fact, the medical industry relies on magnetite for thousands of vital treatments and procedures. And the role magnetite plays in healthcare continues to evolve as exciting new drug therapies arrive on the scene.
Imagine a world in which highly customized, high-potency chemotherapy is directly applied to a tumor for a prescribed period of time. The ability to control a drug while in the body would allow for more powerful drugs to be applied in smaller doses, improving the efficacy of treatment and minimizing side effects.
Researchers believe this is possible by combining ferrofluids with chemotherapy drugs. Hypothetically, a thin layer of ferrofluid encloses the drug, which is directed to the site of the cancer by way of magnetic fields. Once the drug is administered for a specific time, the magnetic field is turned off and the drug dissipates into the body.
While minimizing the required dosage, this treatment protocol would also dramatically increase the efficacy of such treatments, and researchers are confident that drug targeting will soon be a reality.
Another major field of cancer treatment may vanish, thanks to the use of ferrofluids. Long a staple of the cancer treatment field, radiological therapy – the application of targeted radiation to essentially burn away tumors – could become a thing of the past.
Researchers are studying the potential therapeutic applications of injecting tumor sites with ferrofluid and then using magnetic oscillation to heat the tumors. The vibration would create friction, releasing thermal energy that destroys the desired cells without damaging surrounding tissues. This process is called targeted magnetic hyperthermia.
Successful application of targeted magnetic hyperthermia could dramatically reduce and even potentially eliminate the need for radioactive therapies, which are frequently harmful or painful to endure.
One of the greatest limitations of medical treatment today is the ability to see inside of a patient. While MRIs have incrementally improved over the decades, the technology is far from precise. With the selective application of ferrofluid-rich contrasting agents, though, radiologists may be able to improve both the quality and the contrast of MRI images, greatly increasing the image’s use for diagnostic and treatment protocols.
Along those same lines, researchers now believe magnetite may play a key role in the successful separation of cancer cells from healthy cells. They’re attempting to produce compounds that affix to cancerous cells, which could then be separated at the cellular level by means of magnetic fields. One of the first uses for this technology, if successful, will be in the field of bone marrow transplants, where a patient’s own, healthy cels can be separated and then transplanted back into the patient.
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