Cancer Treatment with Electric Fields

Last October, Bill Doyle of the oncological treatment company Novocure gave a TED lecture on a novel cancer treatment method that his company is developing.  The therapy involves exposing cancer cells to a low-intensity alternating electric field at a few hundred hertz, which disrupts cell division by electrically “tugging” at the cancerous cells’ spindle fibers during cellular mitosis.  Practically speaking, the application of this treatment is as simple as sticking a pair of electrodes to a patient’s head for 24 hours.

It seems almost too simple to be viable, but the treatment—which Novocure calls Tumor-Treating Fields (TTF)—has shown promising results in phase III clinical trials, and has even been approved by the FDA for treatment of recurrent glioblastoma. Most noteworthy, however, is how TTF compares to chemotherapy from a quality of life perspective.  Chemotherapy can extend the life of a cancer patient, but the often crippling toll that its side effects can have beg for a less taxing alternative.  Based on a study of two groups of cancer patients, each of which were treated with either TTF or chemotherapy, Doyle explained that the life expectancies of both groups is the same, but pointed out that “the Tumor-Treating Field group suffered none of the side effects typical of chemotherapy patients.”

This kind of development is exciting for two reasons:  First, it represents a fascinating intersection of scientific disciplines—in this case, electromagnetism and cell biology.  Second, it exemplifies the power that technology and medicine have to transform human lives for the better.  TTF is just one example of countless new technologies that are on the cusp of changing the lives of millions of people.  This type of progress is part of what makes working in the biotech industry such an exciting and rewarding endeavor.  I and the rest of Key Tech continue to be excited by new medical technologies being developed every day, and look forward to playing an active role in transforming those raw technologies into finished products.

Check out the TED video here

Jeff Gunnarsson
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