Research output: Cancer zapper could change cancer treatment

Ara's Tom Cronje has created a novel design "cancer zapper" which could have major implications for future cancer treatment research.

Cronje has designed, built and refined a machine that kills cancer cells using electricity.

The high frequency, high voltage pulser is used for electroporation of tumours. Electroporation is where an electric field pulse temporarily breaks down a cell membrane, making it easier to administer chemotherapy drugs.

 "The membrane is broken down so that the drugs can get in more easily. This means less drugs have to be administered which also means fewer negative side effects for the patient," Cronje says.

"This has potential benefits for cancer treatment and patients."

The design is cutting edge and surpasses any commercial equipment for electroporation in terms of technical capabilities, and offering new possibilities for research and clinical purposes. 

Cronje has been using liver and cultured human cancer cells in order to test his machine.

"I've been cultivating these cells and testing them with the machine. Dye allows me to see how the cells are affected."

The machine uses two other methods to fight the cancer as well as electroporation- radio frequency ablation and irreversible electroporation. Radio frequency ablation uses high frequencies to burn the tissue, in a manner similar to cauterising, while irreversible electroporation kills groups of cancer cells.

Other studies have shown that there are exciting opportunities for further research when using both higher frequencies and also bipolar electrical fields, compared to what is widely used at present.

"The project has a strong focus on application in cancer therapy," Cronje says, although he will not participate in clinical trials himself.

To further his research, Cronje is exploring using higher frequencies for electroporation of tumours like liver cancer. There is strong evidence from other studies suggesting better performance at higher frequencies. He is also exploring the radio frequency ablation system.

Cronje has already presented his works on "High voltage and frequency bipolar pulse generator design for electroporation-based cancer therapy" at the Proceedings of the Australasian Universities Power Engineering Conference.