Before the best course of treatment for cancer tumors is established, analyzing them is the top priority. Biopsies are at this point the main way to do this, but they consume lots of time and resources, and also offer only a one-angled view of the problem, at a specific point in time. That is precisely why oncologists have tried for a long time to create an implantable device that could supply all the needed information from inside the patient, without the need for biopsies and other tests. Now, experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have managed to do just that.
The main scientist behind the new medical instrument is MIT Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Michael Cima. “What this does is basically take the lab and put it in the patient,” he explains. He also holds an appointment at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Institute. With it, monitoring a patient's tumor may become as simple as them taking a single trip to the doctor's office. When the first biopsy is conducted, the new implant can also be placed near the tumor, after which time no additional interventions other than the actual surgery will be required.
The new device can tell experts if the drugs used for chemotherapy have reached the actual tumor or not, or if the formation is receding or expanding. According to a new scientific paper that the MIT published in the latest issue of the journal Biosensors & Bioelectronics, the new instrument was able to successfully trace the activity of a chemical produced by human tumors growing in mice for more than a month, offering scientists a good insight into how the cancer formations evolved. The implant itself is only five millimeters wide and has a cylindrical shape.
It contains a large number of nanoparticles, which are coated with antibodies that are specific to target molecules, such as the ones that are produced by cancer tumors. The device is covered by a semi-permeable membrane, which allows the chemical triggers to enter it, where they bind with the coatings of the nanoparticles. This causes the latter to clump together, a phenomenon that can be surveyed via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The amount of clumping shows if the tumor is getting larger or if it's regressing. “This is one of the tools we're going to need if we're going to turn cancer from a death sentence to a manageable disease,” Cima concludes, quoted by Technology Review