Curing cancer could soon be as easy as a few taps on your mobile, according to a team of scientists at Rice University who have received $45 million in funding for a novel, implant-based treatment system that could cut cancer death rates by 50%.
The funds, granted by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, will be used to develop “sense-and-respond implant technology,” with the aim to improve the outcomes of immunotherapy treatments for cancers that are usually difficult to treat.
“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we’ll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time,” Omid Veiseh, a Rice bioengineer and principal investigator on the project, said in a statement.
Similarly to diabetes treatments with insulin pumps, the three-inch implant, or “hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator” (HAMMR), would deliver immunotherapy drugs to the patient in a “closed loop” system. The chargeable devices will communicate wirelessly, “potentially with a smartphone,” researchers told KHOU 11.
Researchers hope that the implant will only be needed for short-term use — eradicating the cancer in as little as 60 days.
“Cancer cells are continually evolving and adapting to therapy. However, currently available diagnostic tools, including radiologic tests, blood assays and biopsies, provide very infrequent and limited snapshots of this dynamic process,” Dr. Amir Jazaeri, a co-principal investigator and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said in a statement.
“As a result, today’s therapies treat cancer as if it were a static disease.”
Instead, their technology, which serves as both a cancer monitoring and drug administrating system, will provide “real-time data from the tumor environment that can in turn guide more effective and tumor-informed novel therapies” and, therefore, expedite the treatment process.
“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” said Veiseh.
The research team is comprised of experts from an array of fields spanning 20 labs in seven states under the project name THOR, which stands for “targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation.”
The first clinical trial will investigate the implant’s effectiveness for recurrent ovarian cancer. They hope to begin human trials within five years.
Last year, Veiseh’s team of researchers already demonstrated the effectiveness of the “drug factory” technology in mice with bead-shaped implants that eradicated late-stage ovarian and colorectal cancers in six days.
Now, they’re able to “build on that experience” with clinical trials, Veiseh said, with HAMMR as “the next iteration of that approach.”