By PHILIP WALZER, The Virginian-Pilot
March 13, 2006 - NORFOLK - A team of scientists from Old Dominion University and
Eastern Virginia Medical School has reported killing melanomas in
mice using lightning-fast, high-powered jolts of electricity.
The researchers expect their paper to be placed online Wednesday in
the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications .
It's the culmination of at least eight years of work seeking possible
health benefits from short, high-voltage doses of electricity. The
results, the researchers think , eventually could translate into an
effective cancer treatment that carries no side effects.
"We've never had a tumor that didn't respond," said the lead
researcher, Richard Nuccitelli , an associate professor of electrical
and computer engineering at Old Dominion. "Every tumor has shrunk. We
know we can eliminate them with the right conditions."
The electric bursts often disrupted the blood flow to the tumor cells
and shrunk their nuclei by 50 percent, Nuccitelli said.
The scientists found that they could kill the tumors with hundreds of
electrical pulses in two treatments given two to three weeks apart.
Each burst of electricity carried 4,000 volts and lasted less than
one-millionth of a second.
Nuccitelli said they think the process worked by severely damaging the
DNA in the cells.
The method produced no scarring and did not harm adjacent cells, the
professors said. The mice survived, they said, with no ill effects.
James Weaver , a senior research scientist for the Harvard-MIT
Division of Health Sciences and Technology , said Friday that the team
from ODU and EVMS is in the forefront of bioelectric research.
"People have known for a long time that certain kinds of big
electrical field pulses can kill cells," he said.
This, Weaver said, might mark the first time tumor cells have been
killed without harming nearby cells.
"I think it's going to attract a lot of attention," he said.
Another researcher on the team, Karl Schoenbach , who holds ODU's
Batten Endowed Chair of Bioelectric Engineering , said they focused
"on the one type of cancer which is the easiest one to access." H e
said the work might have many more applications.
"It could give a new weapon to cancer research," Schoenbach said.
"Maybe some tumors that are not responding now might respond
Nuccitelli, who also works for a biotechnology company, BioElectroMed
Corp. , said the corporation might try to adapt the research to treat
human skin lesions.
The scientists said they need to hone their techniques before they can
experiment on people. Doing that, they said, requires a federal grant,
which they have not yet won.
Eight professors and graduate students participated in the study. They
are affiliated with the Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics ,
a collaborative effort between ODU and EVMS led by Schoenbach.
The center takes up the fifth floor of the Norfolk Public Health
Center , near Brambleton and Colley avenues.
The melanoma work is not the first piece of prominent research to come
out of the bioelectrics center in the past year.
Mounir Laroussi , an associate professor at Old Dominion, developed a
"plasma pencil" that kills E. coli bacteria but leaves skin cells
unharmed. Laroussi has been featured on the Discovery Channel and in
Nuccitelli said he hopes the paper about melanoma will draw lots of
"As well as money, of course," said Stephen Beebe , an associate
professor of physiological sciences at EVMS who helped to pioneer the