First Slovenian congress on electroporation kicks off

Bled, 17 February - The first Slovenian congress on electroporation is being held in Bled on Friday and Saturday, bringing the latest research and guidelines in electroporation, where Slovenia is among the leading countries in research and applications. An important achievement is electrochemotherapy, an approach that treats cancer locally.

Electroporation is a method that exposes a cell to short electric shocks, temporarily increasing the permeability of the cell membrane. Molecules that otherwise could not pass through the membrane can be introduced to the cell or removed from it, Damijan Miklavčič from the biocybernetics lab at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering told the STA.

The method can be used in research, medicine, biotechnology and more, with applications such as food pasteurisation, gene therapy and cancer treatment.

Teams of Slovenian researchers from the Faculty for Electrical Engineering led by Miklavčič and the Ljubljana Oncology Institute led by Gregor Serša were among the first to develop electrochemotherapy, an application of electroporation that destroys cancerous tumours.

Electrochemotherapy exposes cancer cells to electric shocks, allowing chemotherapeutics, normally ineffective at permeating the cell membrane, to enter the cells. This increases the effectiveness of the treatment and decreases the amount of drugs required, Gregor Serša from the Ljubljana Oncology Institute told the STA.

Some 60 patients a year receive this treatment, most have undergone multiple different therapies and electrochemotherapy is likely one of their last options, Serša said. In Europe more than 3,000 patients across 220 hospitals have received this treatment last year, Miklavčič added.

The congress will serve as an opportunity for future connections and looks to ensure progress in electroporation and related processes. The aim is to improve the communication between researchers and clients. "This is an opportunity to see where we have been successful and in what other fields electroporation could be used," Miklavčič said.

The congress will bring together all doctors that use electrochemotherapy, which Serša labelled as an incredible achievement for Slovenia. Doctoral students will also be given the floor to present their research at the congress, which will be attended by Higher Education Minister Igor Papič.

Slovenia's other achievements in the field of electroporation include new methods of gene therapy and heart ablation, as well as having the largest interdisciplinary laboratory that studies electroporation comprehensively.