Earlier this month, the ‘Cytotron,’ a medical invention by Dr Rajah Vijay Kumar, a Bengaluru-based scientist, received the honour of being called a ‘breakthrough device’ in cancer care by the Centre for Devices and Radiological Health, a branch of the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) responsible for the pre-market approval of all medical devices.
The machine, “intended to stop the cancer tissue from multiplying, growing and spreading,” is the outcome of 32 years of continuous research and has been designated as a breakthrough device since it is an entirely new way to treat cancer.
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Speaking to The Better India, Dr Kumar, who is the Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer at the Centre for Advanced Research and Development (CARD), a research wing under the Organization de Scalene Foundation, talked about the happiness and hope at receiving this letter of approval.
“It is something we have worked on for more than three decades, and research is still ongoing. Naturally, the process of developing any new medical device takes a long time taking into account the need for a lot of tests, addressing safety aspects and adverse effects. Nevertheless, in receiving the ‘breakthrough device’ designation from the USFDA, we feel that our work has been good enough. We hope it will also offer a breakthrough in the lives of cancer patients,” he says.
The Cytotron works on the tissue engineering principles of human cells, altering how certain proteins are regulated to prevent them from multiplying and spreading in case of cancer, or promote growth of cells where required, and is essentially a new way to think about repairing cellular disorders.
“We have moved away from ‘destroying, killing or obliterating cancer tissues’ to a method of communicating with the cellular command and control, and stop it from growing and spreading to other parts of the body. Cancer cells are cells that have just gone out of control. By appropriately addressing the right methodology and specific protein pathways, you can drive the cancer cells into old age, push them into accelerated ageing, and finally, apoptosis (programmed cell death). Once this stage is achieved, your body’s immune system takes over time and the cancer cells are recycled. This is the philosophy of Cytotron,” he argues.
So, what does Cytotron do in Cancer Cells?
Any cell in our body can multiply anywhere upto 50 times before becoming senescent, which means it can no longer further that process. After the 50th division, there is a flag planted down, where a protein called p53, a programmed cell death protein, is expressed in old age cells. This ensures the cell doesn’t multiply any further.
This process is driven by the pro-apoptotic protein p53, which regulates apoptosis. Unfortunately, in cancer cells, this process doesn’t happen because the protein is mutated or is not expressed, as they do not receive the signal to do so.
Naturally, these cells don’t know when to stop multiplying and eventually progress to grow as an organ in the body or a life form. As they grow, they land up with a resource crunch.
Then, these cells look at forming new colonies and start spreading with their “survival instincts” taking over. Cancer produces a very special kind of cell, called EMT cells or cancer stem cells (CSCs), that spread to another location and then it builds up new colonies.
As long as the cancer is growing, the body’s immune system does it not attack it. On the contrary, it protects the cancer tissue. Cancer cells take advantage of this situation, and conquer different organs of the body, until the body cannot function normally.
“Cytotron stops the cancer tissue from multiplying and spreading to other organs. Once the tumor stops growing or spreading, what we do at Cytotron is plant the flag (protein) down, which determines that the cell is old enough to die. The moment this happens, the cell stops growing and once that happens the first reaction of the immune system is to grab the cell and throw it out. The cancer tissue is recycled, and this device also works to convert or transform the cancer stem cells into cells that don’t multiply. These are two things that happen when we treat a cancer patient with Cytotron. Depending on which stage of cancer you’re being treated at, it stops the cancer cells from spreading. The earlier you go inside the Cytotron, your cancer gets arrested at that point. Once you stop the tumour from growing and spreading, there are other ways you can manage the disease,” says Dr Kumar.
The Cytotron itself is a vast machine and has thousands of components. Generically known as rotational field quantum magnetic resonance, Cytotron produces fast radio bursts, which modulate the life systems and communicate with cells in the body. At present, the machine is being made at the CARD campus in Bengaluru. “When we need to scale up production, we may rope in another entity,” he says.
The device is approved for clinical use by the Medical Devices Directive (MDD) of the European Council, the SFDA in the Middle East and the Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios (COFEPRIS) in South America. Cytotron cancer treatment is currently in use in about nine countries and has treated hundreds of patients already, claims Dr Kumar.
In India, this machine is not yet available, although they give free treatment to as many people at their centre. From January 2020, they will start supplying these machines to hospitals and institutions.
However, addressing cancer is just one such application. The development of this machine is only one aspect of their broader research in tissue engineering, like chondrogenesis, where they grow cartilage tissue and bone tissue.
Cytotron First, The Rest Later
“In India, the Cytotron will cost anywhere between Rs 2.5 to Rs 3 crore,” says Dr Kumar. For patients diagnosed with cancer, he suggests that before any surgery, they should ideally be sent straight into the Cytotron so the tumour can be stopped from growing or spreading.
“In my opinion, you essentially cut down the risk of cancer spreading by going through the Cytotron. If there is a tumour that is causing pain or discomfort, you could do a surgery later on. But before doing it, you must go through the Cytotron. Cancer activity stops, people feel more energetic, they put on weight, and the effects are generally good after patients undergo Cytotron treatment,” he argues.
While humans haven’t found a cure for cancer, what we have here is the next best thing!
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(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)