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A New Battery Technique to Starve Cancer Cells of Oxygen

Self-Charging Battery Reduces Tumor Volume by 90% in Mice

Key takeaways

  • A self-charging battery wrapped around a tumor can remove oxygen from the cancer cells’ environment, boosting the power of some cancer therapies, according to a study in mice.
  • Mice that had small batteries wrapped around their breast cancer tumors, combined with cancer therapy, showed a 90 percent decrease in tumor volume in two weeks.
  • The battery’s zinc electrode self-charges by sucking up oxygen from the environment, creating highly reactive oxygen pairs that can damage DNA but aren’t a usable form of oxygen for cells.
  • While the findings are encouraging, they are extremely preliminary and will require further testing in several breast cancer models and other cancer models before human trials.

Cancer has become a major health concern worldwide, causing millions of deaths each year. With traditional chemotherapy being ineffective against some types of cancer, scientists are constantly on the lookout for innovative approaches to cancer treatment. A recent study published in Science Advances has revealed that a self-charging battery wrapped around a tumor could be a new weapon in the fight against cancer.

The Problem with Solid Tumors

Solid tumors, such as those that can develop in breast cancer, can grow rapidly, often outpacing their blood supply. This means that the center of many tumors can be hypoxic, with much lower oxygen levels than surrounding tissue. Hypoxic cells are often resistant to traditional chemotherapies, as there isn’t enough blood flow to deliver a deadly dose. This resistance has made it challenging to treat many types of cancer effectively.

Hypoxia: A Double-Edged Sword

Hypoxia is a double-edged sword. While low oxygen levels in tumors mean that the body’s immune cells often cannot survive long enough to kill the cancerous cells, it provides a target for precision treatment of tumors. The hypoxia could act as a beacon for chemicals called hypoxia-activated prodrugs. These are chemotherapeutic drugs hooked to a linking chemical that ensures the drug becomes active only in a low-oxygen environment.

However, hypoxia-activated prodrugs don’t show much benefit in clinical trials, possibly in part because the solid tumors they are deployed against are not evenly hypoxic or not hypoxic enough. Therefore, researchers have been looking for ways to make tumors more hypoxic, to give the prodrugs a better chance.

The Battery Solution

Researchers at Fudan University in Shanghai have developed a tiny, flexible battery that can partially wrap around a tumor. The battery’s zinc electrode self-charges by sucking up oxygen from the environment. It also creates highly reactive oxygen pairs that can damage DNA but aren’t a usable form of oxygen for cells.

The battery alone was capable of shrinking tumors in mice by up to 26 percent of their original size two weeks after implantation. When combined with a hypoxia-activated prodrug, average tumor size shrank by 90 percent.

Encouraging Results in Mice

The findings of the study are encouraging, but extremely preliminary. Not only were the batteries deployed only in mice, but they also were used against a mouse-specific breast cancer. The battery may need to be made more flexible and more powerful to work on human-sized tumors.

Challenges and Future Research

While the potential of using CRISPR as a diagnostic tool is promising, there are still significant challenges to overcome. One major challenge is the development of more accurate and sensitive detection methods to ensure the reliability of CRISPR-based diagnostics. As mentioned earlier, CRISPR-based diagnostics rely on detecting changes in DNA or RNA sequences, which can be difficult to differentiate from normal genetic variation or mutations.

Another challenge is the need for more efficient delivery systems for CRISPR-based diagnostics. In order to be effective, CRISPR tools need to be delivered directly to the target cells or tissues in a safe and efficient manner. Currently, there are limitations in the ability to deliver CRISPR tools to specific cells or tissues, which can limit the effectiveness of CRISPR-based diagnostics.

Furthermore, there are ethical considerations associated with the use of CRISPR-based diagnostics. As with any new technology, there is a need to carefully consider the ethical implications of using CRISPR for diagnostic purposes. One concern is the potential for CRISPR-based diagnostics to be used for non-medical purposes, such as in genetic testing for personal or commercial reasons. There is also a need to ensure that the use of CRISPR-based diagnostics is accessible and equitable, and does not exacerbate existing health disparities.

Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of CRISPR-based diagnostics are significant. In addition to improving the accuracy and speed of disease diagnosis, CRISPR-based diagnostics could also be used for monitoring disease progression and treatment response. Furthermore, the use of CRISPR tools in diagnostics could also pave the way for the development of new therapeutics, such as gene editing or gene therapy.


CRISPR-based diagnostics represent an exciting new development in the field of molecular diagnostics. By harnessing the power of CRISPR tools, researchers are able to develop highly accurate and sensitive diagnostic tests that can detect a wide range of diseases, including infectious diseases, genetic disorders, and cancers. While there are still significant challenges to overcome, the potential benefits of CRISPR-based diagnostics are immense, and could have a major impact on the field of medicine in the years to come. As research in this area continues to progress, it will be interesting to see how CRISPR-based diagnostics continue to evolve and improve, and how they will ultimately impact the diagnosis and treatment of diseases around the world.

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