Chemical engineers at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have developed a drug sponge that could absorb the residual chemotherapy drug and minimise cancer treatment side effects.
To be inserted in the bloodstream, the sponge is also expected to enable the delivery of higher doses to fight cancers in organs such as the liver, which do not respond to more benign therapies.
The team developed the drug sponge by coating a 3D printed cylinder with absorbent polymer. The cylinder is tailored to fit precisely in a vein that carries the blood out of the target organ.
A wire is passed into the bloodstream to insert the drug sponge, which is left in the vein throughout the chemotherapy duration.
This placement is intended to soak up any residual drug not absorbed by the tumour and prevent it from affecting other organs.
UC San Francisco interventional radiologist Steven Hetts said: “We are developing this around liver cancer because it is a big public health threat – there are tens of thousands of new cases every year – and we already treat liver cancer using intra-arterial chemotherapy.
“But if you think about it, you could use this sort of approach for any tumour or any disease that is confined to an organ, and you want to absorb the drug on the venous side before it can distribute and cause side effects elsewhere in the body.”
Early tests in pigs showed that the sponge soaked up on an average of 64% of a chemotherapy drug for liver cancer called doxorubicin, which was injected upstream.
The team is currently performing tests on the amount of drug that the sponge could absorb when implemented at the exit of a healthy pig liver.
They intend to obtain conditional approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate the drug sponge in humans.
Furthermore, the researchers hope that the sponge can potentially absorb other toxic drugs such as high-powered antibiotics.