Knobby Magnetic Beads from ITRI in Taiwan Show Promise for Fighting Cancer

ITRI’s iKNOBEADS can activate T cells to fight cancer cells more effectively, becoming a new tool in immunotherapies. 

Knobby knees may be a drawback to a fashion model, but knobby magnetic beads look quite attractive for battling certain types of cancer. That’s what scientists at Taiwan’s Industrial Research Institute of Technology (ITRI) have found in their work developing precision tools for medicine. They have developed the world’s only biomimetic knobby magnetic beads. 

The iKNOBEADS are irregularly protruded-looking spiky balls that can strengthen and magnetically activate T cells to fight cancer cells more effectively. Magnetic beads typically are involved in in vitro activation, which is a mainstream method presently used in immunotherapies. Commercially available magnetic beads are spherical. These beads, however, feature a unique spiky structure, enhancing the activation efficacy and expanding the number of T cells by a factor of 100. 

The number of beads required is only one-third that of the magnetic beads currently on the market, say the researchers. The beads can make dormant T cells come alive, have memory-like functions, and lead the fight against cancer cells. By modifying the surface of the magnetic beads, the manufacturing technology can be applied to the activation and expansion of lymphoma cells, becoming the world’s first and only magnetic bead product of this type, they report.  

Currently, the research team is focused on therapies for hematological cancers such as blood cancer, lymphoma and bone cancer. It has discussed cooperation with a number of local and foreign medical centers and biotech companies using iKNOBEADS manufacturing technology as a platform. ITRI aims to launch clinical GMP products in the future to apply the beads and manufacturing technology to a variety of immunotherapies, particularly to solid cancers. 

Their work has garnered accolades, including a prestigious Edison Award last year which recognized iKNOBEADS as “a game-changing innovation standing out among the best new products and services launched in their category.” Based in Hsinchu, ITRI is a leading applied technology research institute with a staff of more than 6,000 people which has incubated numerous commercial spinouts. Nearly 90% of the lab’s scientists and staff members hold master’s or higher degrees, with more than 100 of them being PhD’s. For more info, see