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Implantable device identifies most effective cancer drug treatment

27 April 2015

MIT researchers have developed a tiny implantable device that can carry a range of tumour treating drugs, enabling clinicians to determine effective treatments.

The implantable device deliver many drugs at once, allowing researchers to determine which drugs are the most effective against a patient's tumour (image: Eric Smith/edited by Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT)

The implantable device, about the size of the grain of rice, can carry small doses of up to 30 different drugs. After implanting it in a tumour and letting the drugs diffuse into the tissue, researchers can measure how effectively each one kills the patient’s cancer cells.

Such a device could eliminate much of the guesswork now involved in choosing cancer treatments, says Oliver Jonas of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the lead author of a paper describing the device in the April 22 online edition of Science Translational Medicine.

In some cases, doctors extract tumour cells, grow them in a lab dish, and treat them with different drugs to see which ones are most effective. However, this process removes the cells from their natural environment, which can play an important role in how a tumour responds to drug treatment.

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

The device, made from a stiff, crystalline polymer, can be implanted in a patient’s tumour using a biopsy needle. After implantation, drugs seep 200 to 300 microns into the tumour, but do not overlap with each other. Any type of drug can go into the reservoir, and the researchers can formulate the drugs so that the doses that reach the cancer cells are similar to what they would receive if the drug were given by typical delivery methods such as intravenous injection.

After one day of drug exposure, the implant is removed, along with a small sample of the tumour tissue surrounding it, and the researchers analyse the drug effects by slicing up the tissue sample and staining it with antibodies that can detect markers of cell death or proliferation.

The researchers are now working on ways to make the device easier to read while it is still inside the patient, allowing them to get results faster. They are also planning to launch a clinical trial in breast cancer patients next year.

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