Synthetic hydroxyapatite — a material that functions as a medical contrast agent as well as a targeted therapy drug carrier that can transmit heat during thermal therapy — has been awarded the 9th National Innovation award and also received a national patent.
Tatung University assistant professor Wu Hsi-chin (吳錫芩) said she discovered the potential use of the material for gene therapy and heat therapy while conducting research.
Heat therapy is a new field of cancer treatment outside traditional chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy.
Using magnetized hydroxyapatite (mHAP) as a thermal conductor, Wu and a research group — comprised of teams from National Taiwan University and National Tsing Hua University — were able to heat up isolated tumor cells to control the growth of cancer cells and leave isolated cells to die.
Hydroxyapatite (HAP) is the main component in the bones and teeth of the human body. As such, the research group discovered it has a high compatibility with organic life forms, Wu said, adding that such a characteristic enabled it to become a contrast agent.
Contrasting agents are used to improve the visibility of images of the inside of the human body and different methods of internal imaging require different kind of materials for contrasting.
However, as all internal imaging contrasting agents are chemical in origin, their use has led to worries that it would be impossible to remove them entirely from the body after ingestion.
Wu said that HAP was different as it would slowly dissolve in the body on its own, making the product more secure in comparison with other agents.
The research team also discovered that HAP could be used as a targeted therapy drug carrier.
While conducting experiments on mice, the research team discovered that five days after mHAP was injected, the tumor masses in the animals had shrunk by nearly 50 percent. A reduction of that size was significant therapeutic progress, the team said.
However, as the injection of mHAP was considered to be a highly invasive therapy, Wu said that the nation’s medical regulations prevented the material from being used in human experimentation for up to five years.