Researchers have created and tested miniature devices that can be implanted in tumours to generate oxygen, boosting the killing power of radiation and chemotherapy.
The technology is designed to treat solid tumors that are hypoxic at the center, meaning the core contains low oxygen levels.
"This is not good because radiation therapy needs oxygen to be effective," said Babak Ziaie, a Purdue University professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering.
"So the hypoxic areas are hard to kill. Pancreatic and cervical cancers are notoriously hypoxic. If you generate oxygen you can increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy and also chemotherapy."
The new "implantable micro oxygen generator" is an electronic device that receives ultrasound signals and uses the energy to generate a small voltage to separate oxygen and hydrogen from water - a chemical operation called water electrolysis.
The devices are slightly less than one centimeter long and are inserted into tumors with a hypodermic biopsy needle.
"We are putting these devices inside tumors and then exposing the tumors to ultrasound," Ziaie said. "The ultrasound energy powers the device, generating oxygen.