Shocking cancer treatment may also yield weapon

By | March 7, 2009

Could nanosecond-long pulses of electricity be used as stun-guns? (Image: a_kartha, stock.xchng)A technique thought to be a promising cancer treatment is also being investigated as the basis for a Taser-like weapon that stuns for longer, New Scientist has learned.

The technology involves short, nanosecond-long pulses of extreme voltage.

Microsecond pulses have been used for years to punch temporary holes in cell membranes, to shove genes or drugs into cells. But the nanosecond pulses have similar effects on individual organelles inside a cell, such as the nucleus.

For reasons as yet unknown, this can cause a cell to destroy itself in a process known as apoptosis, something being investigated as a cancer treatment. But the nanosecond pulses are also being researched as a way to temporarily disable human muscles.

One study on cells in vitro indicated that 60-nanosecond pulses caused “profound and long-lasting loss” of the electrical activity in the membranes of cells similar to nerve cells. The effect lasted fifteen minutes.

So far, research investigating the potential to disable muscles using nanopulses has been limited to tests on tissue samples in vitro and theoretical studies that claim the ultrashort shocks should be able to disable a whole animal.

However, Law says that plans for testing on live subjects are “proceeding at appropriate institutions.” He declined to be more specific or say when human testing might take place.

“The medical and biological effects of such ultra-short electrical shocks in such a weapon are presently unknown,” highlights Amnesty International researcher Angela Wright, saying the organisation is already concerned that evidence is emerging that Tasers and other shock devices have long-term health effects.

She thinks that the different effects of even shorter pulses may also have unpredicted effects.

via Shocking cancer treatment may also yield weapon – tech – 05 March 2009 – New Scientist.

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