While scientists are working tirelessly to find new and effective solutions to cancer, many patients currently undergo chemotherapy, a treatment that comes with a whole host of deeply unpleasant side effects, such as vomiting, hair loss, and a weakened immune system.
The issue is that chemotherapy drugs are toxic, and while they kill cancer cells, they also spread to untargeted parts of the body via the blood. One way to tackle this is directly delivering the drugs to the tumor site via catheters, but more than 50 percent still escapes from the target organ.
Now, scientists have created a tiny device that sits inside a vein and acts like a sponge, mopping up the excess chemo drug after it’s left the tumor site. It’s essentially a tiny tube coated in a drug-absorbing polymer that allows blood to flow through unhindered.
It’s still very early days for the device – so far it has only been tested in pigs – but it has given some very promising results. In their experiment, researchers from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, focused on the liver, publishing their findings in the journal ACS Central Science.
"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," said Steven Hetts, an interventional radiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. (Intra-arterial chemo is more targeted than regular chemotherapy and involves administering the drug to the artery or arteries that supply the tumor via a catheter.)
The team injected a chemotherapy drug called doxorubicin into each pig's blood upstream of the liver, and inserted their device in a vein downstream. After the drug had left the liver, it passed through the device.