Biomineral found in bones can be heated up with radio waves to kill cancer cells, discover Amri

January 29, 2018: In major medical breakthrough, scientists of Centre for Nanosciences and Molecular Medicine at Kochi’s Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences have succeeded in turning nanoparticles of calcium phosphate – a biomineral naturally found in human bones – into fully biodegradable radio frequency (RF) agents and made them imageable by MRI and CT scans. This has paved the way for safer, cheaper diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The project has been funded by the Dept. of Biotechnology, Govt. of India.

Said Dr. Shanti Nair, Director, Centre forNanosciences and Molecular Medicine, Amrita Institute of Medical SciencesKochi:“The development of calcium phosphate nanoparticles with imageable propertiesfor drug delivery applications is a major innovation in the quest to developbiodegradable contrast agents for imaging (diagnostic) purposes. Calciumphosphate is naturally found in human bones and is non-toxic and fullybiodegradable. Now that its nanoparticles have been made imageable by MRI andCT scans, their accumulation in tumours can be verified and the MR contrastused for image-guided surgical treatment of cancer.” 

Currently, the most common treatment for cancerinvolves radiation and use of gamma rays to kill cancer cells. However, thisinflicts collateral damage – healthy cells also get destroyed along with cancercells. Radiation treatment with Cyber-Knife is much more precise, but veryexpensive. In this situation, the most easily accessible and cheapest cancertreatment available today uses radio frequency (RF) microwaves. But for thismethod to work, the RF agent should be non-toxic to human body andpreferentially accumulated in the tumour. This is where the development ofcalcium phosphate nanoparticles as a biodegradable RF agent becomessignificant. 

Said Dr. Manzoor Koyakutty, Professor, Centrefor Nanosciences and Molecular Medicine, Amrita Institute of Medical SciencesKochi,and the project’s keyprincipal investigator: "The main advantage ofcalcium phosphate is that our body does not treat it as foreign material,leading to minimum toxicity and immune rejection compared to other engineerednanoparticles which are non-biodegradable. We have made this biomineralimageable using MRI and CT. It can be guided precisely to cancer tumours, whichwill enable their treatment under image guidance, using radio waves to heat upand destroy the cancerous cells. We are now conducting large animal studies,after which clinical trials will follow." 

The team of co-inventors has launched a new companywhich has already acquired the rights from Amrita Institute of Medical Sciencesto bring the product to clinics. This spin-off venture is supported by theBiotechnology Innovation Grant of Department of Biotechnology, Govt. of India. 

The discovery of RF hyper-thermic property (heatgeneration under radio waves) of calcium phosphate was by chance. A team ofresearchers at Amrita Centre for Nanosciences and Molecular Medicine, includingDr. Anusha Ashokan, Dr Vijay Harish and Dr GS Gowd, was doing experiments tooptimize MRI imaging and RF properties of some calcium-containing materials.During experimentation, they accidentally found that the calcium compound wasgetting heated up when exposed to radio waves. This led to the optimization ofcalcium phosphate nanoparticles for RF applications. The scientists enhancedtheir hyper-thermic properties by doping them with iron nanoparticles havingmagnetic properties, which also helped in magnetic resonance imaging. 

Said Dr. Vijay Harish, Physician Scientist,Dept. of Nuclear Medicine, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi: "Imageguided therapy using biodegradable material such as calcium phosphate is veryattractive from the clinical perspective. It will allow doctors to treat cancerpatients with precision.” 

A paper regarding this research was recently publishedin “Nature Scientific Reports,” a high impact journal ( 

More information about Amrita Centre for Nanosciencesand Molecular Medicine is available here:

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