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Generator of high voltage pulses to destroy tumours patented

By the University of Zaragoza and the BERG research group coordinated by Antoni Ivorra at the Department of Information and Communication Technologies, pioneers in irreversible thermal electroporation, a neither thermal nor pharmacological method that allows tackling bulkier tumours.



Researchers from the University of Zaragoza and Pompeu Fabra University have developed and patented a generator of high voltage pulses to destroy solid tumours by means of the phenomenon known as irreversible electroporation. This phenomenon causes cells to die because they become unable to repair the damage caused by high electric fields in the cell wall.

Compared to other methods for the elimination of malignant tissues, irreversible electroporation presents significant benefits for the patient as its mechanism of action is not based on thermal alterations, and this brings improvements in recovery and means it is possible to treat tumours that, due to their location, would otherwise not be treatable.

The IEEE scientific Journal of Emerging and Selected Topics in Power Electronics includes this technological development for biomedical application in its latest issue.

The development has been patented - 66.6% by Unizar and 33.3% by UPF -, and has aroused the interest of several companies, which will allow advancing in research into irreversible electroporation as a useful tool in the fight against cancer.

So far, the generator has been tested with success in in vivo studies and has demonstrated its ability to destroy large volumes of tissue.

The generator developed allows generating pulses of higher voltage and current than are currently used in clinics, permitting large treatment volumes.

Specifically, the generator can apply voltages of up to 12 kilovolts peak-to-peak and currents of up to 400 amps vs. the 3 kilovolts and 50 amps of generators in clinical use. In addition, the generator allows adapting the shape and the number of pulses to the requirements of the treatment.

This invention has been led by researchers from the Power Electronics and Microelectronics Group (GEPM) of the Aragón Institute for Engineering Research (I3A) of the University of Zaragoza, in collaboration with the Biomedical Electronics Research Group (BERG) of the Department of Information and Communication Technologies (DTIC) at Pompeu Fabra University, pioneers in the experimental development of irreversible electroporation in Spain.

“Irreversible electroporation is not based on the use of ionizing radiation and, unlike other physical techniques for destroying tumours, it preserves the extracellular matrix and so it is possible to treat tumours near critical structures such as large arteries, as well as the rapid regeneration of the treated tissue”, explains Quim Castellví, a researcher at Pompeu Fabra University who has contributed to this development alongside Antoni Ivorra, coordinator of the BERG research group.

Participating for the University of Zaragoza are Hèctor Sarnago, Óscar Llúcia, Alejandro Naval and José Miguel Burdío, coordinator of the GEPM.

Effects of reversible and irreversible electroporation

The term electroporation, a phenomenon that has been known about for decades, alludes to the increased permeability of the cell membrane by means of high magnitude electric fields. These fields are able to alter the resting potential of the cell membrane so that the structure of the lipid bilayer is imbalanced giving rise to pores.

When the pulses are of low magnitude, the process is reversible, since the cell is able to repair these defects and can continue living. In fact, to date electroporation has been applied in this regard to help the absorption of drugs or DNA through pores opened momentarily. However, with high electric fields, the cell cannot repair the defects and that leads to cell death.

This development was initiated in the framework of a project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (TEC2010-17285). Project title: ”Methods and tools for in vivo electroporation”, ID: TEC2010-17285. Duration: 01/2011 to 12/2013; aim: percutaneous systems for in vivo electroporation. Funding: Ministry of Science and Innovation. Principal Investigator: Antoni Ivorra.

Reference work:

Héctor Sarnago, Óscar Llúcia, Alejandro Naval, José M. Burdío, Quim Castellví, Antoni Ivorra (2016), “A Versatile Multilevel Converter Platform for Cancer Treatment Using Irreversible electroporation”, DOI:10.1109 / JESTPE.2015.2512324


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