A new reusable device created by the Johns Hopkins University can help women with breast cancer in lower income countries by using carbon dioxide, a widely available and affordable gas, to power a cancer tissue-freezing probe instead of industry-standard argon.
A study detailing the tool's success in animals was published in PLOS One.
"Innovation in cancer care does not always mean you have to create an entirely new treatment, sometimes it means radically innovating on proven therapies such that they are redesigned to be accessible to the majority of the world's population," says Bailey Surtees, a recent Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineering graduate and the study's first author.
While Argon is expensive and not readily available in low-income countries, carbon dioxide could become a feasible alternative to perform cryoablation.
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"This project is a remarkable example of success from the Biomedical Engineering Design Program," says Nicholas Durr, an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins and the study's senior author. "This team of undergraduates has been so successful because they created a practical solution for the problem after really understanding the constraints that needed to be met to be impactful."
The largest cause of cancer-related mortality for women across the globe, breast cancer disproportionately affects women in lower-income countries due to lack of treatment. While the survival rate for women in the United States is greater than 90%, they are significantly lower at 64%, 46% and 12% in Saudi Arabia, Uganda and The Gambia, respectively.
In lower-income countries, the main barriers to treating breast cancer are inadequate treatment options - with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation being impractical or too expensive - and long travel times to regional hospitals where efficient treatment is available. Even if a woman is able to travel to a hospital for treatment, she may not be seen and recovery times will keep her out of work for an additional few weeks.
Killing cancerous tissue with cold, or cryoablation, is preferable to surgically removing tumors in these countries because it eliminates the need for a sterile operating room and anesthesia, thus making it possible to local clinics to perform the procedure. It is also minimally invasive, thereby reducing complications such as pain, bleeding and extended recovery time.
Current cryoablation technologies, however, are too expensive, with a single treatment costing upwards of $10,000, and are dependent on argon gas, which typically is not available in lower-income countries, to form the tissue-killing ice crystals.
With these barriers in mind, the student-led research team, named Kubanda (which means "cold" in Zulu), wanted to create a tissue-freezing tool that uses carbon dioxide, which is already widely available in most rural areas thanks to the popularity of carbonated drinks.
MEDICA-tradefair.com; Source: Johns Hopkins University