A group of researchers from University of California, Berkeley and University of California, San Francisco has recently developed a tiny polymer drug sponge, which is set to absorb excess chemotherapy agents from the bloodstream after they have reached the target.
As reported in the journal ACS Central Science, the new drug sponge is aimed to minimize the ill side effects of toxic chemotherapy drugs which have potent effect against tumors, but also attack healthy tissues and organs, and impair their function. In addition, it could allow the delivery of higher doses of drugs to treatment-resistant tumors like liver cancer.
Unlike the polymers used in fuel cells, the new device is an absorbent polymer coating a 3D-printed cylinder which can be customized to fit the vein of a specific patient receiving a chemotherapy treatment, mostly in veins carrying blood out of the target organ.
Once the sponge enters the vein, it absorbs the toxic substances after they have passed through the targeted organ for treatment, potentially preventing them from reaching and damaging other healthy organs.
In early test in pigs, the new device absorbed, on average, 64% of the liver cancer drug (doxorubicin, the chemotherapy agent), when injected upstream.
According to Nitash Balsara, chemical and biomolecular engineering professor at UC, Berkeley, surgeons must twist a wire into the bloodstream and position the new device like a stent and just leave it through the administration of chemotherapy.
As it is a temporary device, there is lower bar in terms of receiving an approval from the FDA, an interventional radiologist Steven Hetts said. This type of chemo-filter could be one of the shortest pathways to patients, he added.
Hetts, who first approached Balsara to research a way for removing drugs from the bloodstream, said that the drug sponge is developed regarding liver cancer as it represents a big threat to the public health, giving rise to tens of thousands of new cases every year. Liver cancer is already being treated using intra-arterial chemotherapy and with such sort of approach, it is essential to absorb the drugs on the venous side before it starts distributing and causing side effects to other organs.
With further research, the team is planning to use the technology in other organs, such as for the treatment of brain tumors and kidney tumors. However, the next path is not extensive animal testing but to get conditional approval from the regulators to conduct human studies, Hetts said.