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East Meets West: Cancer Therapy Using Acupuncture and Electrochemistry

Scientists report a novel cancer therapy based on generating hydrogen gas in tumours via acupuncture needle electrodes and electrochemistry to induce apoptosis.

Advances in cancer treatment has led to various promising therapeutic strategies being put forth including immunotherapy, gene therapy, photothermal therapy and photodynamic therapy. However, these techniques usually rely on chemical and genetic drugs or exotic nanomaterials to actualize treatments, limiting their commercialisation due to cost, uncertainties with potential biotoxicity or ethical issues.

Hydrogen gas, H2, is known to have therapeutic effects against inflammation and has been exploited for the treatment of many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis and diabetes. However, the unresolved question of how to produce H2 non-invasively, sufficiently and in vivo has precluded its application in cancer therapy thus far.

A joint team from the State Key Laboratory of Electroanalytical Chemistry, Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and School of Public Health, Jilin University, Changchun, has overcome this challenge by combining traditional acupuncture and modern electrochemistry.

As described in the paper published in the Beijing-based National Science Review, two iron acupuncture needle electrodes were inserted into a tumour and a DC current of 3 V was applied (which has minimal damage to healthy tissues). This drove electrochemical H2 generation effectively under the acidic tumour microenvironment and caused cancer cell apoptosis.

Importantly, this method is minimally invasive, and produces H2 in vivo and in large scale by taking advantage of the gas diffusion effect, avoiding the classic shortcoming of limited effective area for electrochemical reactions. Moreover, due to the needle positioning and acidic tumour microenvironment, the method provides ideal selectivity and targeting to precisely kill tumours with minimal damage to normal tissues.

The effectiveness of the method was demonstrated by successful and fast treatment of glioma and breast cancers in mice in the study. The cost of cancer therapy via this method is estimated to be less than $1 for each treatment, according to the authors. [APBN]