Implantable Device Could Revolutionize Cancer Treatment
Ilan Mester posted on April 27, 2015 |
MIT engineers have developed technology that could alter the way doctors select drug treatments
A rendering of the MIT implantable device for cancer treatment. Source: Eric Smith (edited by Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT)

When treating a cancer patient, doctors often go through a trial-and-error approach to determine the most suitable drug for that individual. This process could change thanks to technology developed by MIT chemical engineers.

The implantable device, about the size of of a grain of rice, is capable of carrying 30 unique drug doses (in small quantities). Healthcare practitioners would implant the device into a tumor, allowing the drugs to diffuse into the patient’s tissue. Doctors would then evaluate the effectiveness of each drug.

A unique approach to cancer treatment

Currently, oncologists remove tumor cells from a patient with a biopsy, and then cultivate those cells in the lab to identify the most effective treatment. A major disadvantage with this approach is that it removes the cells from their natural environment, thus impacting the way the tumor reacts to drug treatment.

“The approach that we thought would be good to try is to essentially put the lab into the patient,” said MIT researcher Oliver Jonas. “It’s safe and you can do all of your sensitivity testing in the native microenvironment.”

The engineers used a stiff, crystalline polymer to create the device. It relies on a biopsy needle in order to be implanted. Once the device is in the patient’s body, drugs seep up to 300 microns into the tumor without overlapping with each other. The drugs can be set up so that they mimic ones delivered by traditional methods, such as intravenous injection.

The implant is removed after 24 hours, along with a sample of the tumor tissue.  The latter is then examined to see whether the cell has died.

Testing the device on mice

The team used mice to test its device; they grafted three human tumors (breast, prostate and melanoma) that require different drug treatments depending on the patient.

“This device could help us identify the best chemotherapy agents and combinations for every tumor prior to starting systemic administration of chemotherapy, as opposed to making choices based on population-based statistics,” said Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Jose Baselga. “This has been a longstanding pursuit of the oncology community and an important step toward our goal of developing precision-based cancer therapy.” 

There is still a lot of work to be done before the device can hit the market.  A clinical trial in breast cancer patients is slated for 2016.

Source: MIT News 

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