Tiny Balls, Big Treatment

An Edmonton company finds a very small way to treat cancer

Cancer is a vampire. The very blood that feeds the human body also brings the tumour the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow.

So, how to stop the vampire? Not with a cross or garlic. Instead of a wooden stake, Edmonton’s IMBiotechnologies Ltd. has come up with a way to temporarily cut off the blood flow to the cancer.

How does it work? Doctors have known for decades that putting microscopic balls into the bloodstream works — the balls gather together and basically create a dam. The blood flow is cut off from the tumour, and it shrinks. But, the spheres are hard to put in, and difficult to remove. After all, you can’t leave them in, or the lack of blood flow will kill the organs, too.

What makes the company’s Ekobi microspheres unique is that they will dissolve four to six months after they’re delivered to the target tissue. No invasive surgeries are needed. And they can be detected via ultrasound.

The spheres were approved for use by Health Canada last October. They’ve also been green lighted by the American FDA.

They can shrink enlarged prostates, as well.

“It provides a level of security not seen in other embolic agents,” says IMBiotechnologies CEO Michael Stewart.

“There’s no radiation, and it’s not an unpleasant procedure,” says Dr. Richard Owen from the University of Alberta, who oversaw the clinical trials on the microspheres. “Everyone wants biodegradable everything.”

Owen says that research is being done into how the spheres could help shrink or eliminate painful fibroids in women.

Alberta Innovates contributed $500,000 to the research. Stewart says that one vial of the microspheres sells for $500.

“What a terrific return on investment,” says Terry Rachwalski, the executive director of entrepreneurial investments at Alberta Innovates. “We’re looking for high potential and high growth.”

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