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'Drug sponge' could soak up chemo inefficiencies

11 January 2019 08:45

The 'sponge' could prevent excess chemo drugs passing through the bloodstream

The 'sponge' could prevent excess chemo drugs passing through the bloodstream

A so-called "drug sponge" that mops up leftover drugs from cancer treatment could improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy, new research has claimed.

The biomedical sponge is actually a cylinder, coated in an absorbent polymer that's inserted into a vein carrying blood away from an organ.

By soaking up the drugs not taken up by the tumour, the sponge helps stop excess chemo drugs passing through the bloodstream to other others of the body.

In testing on pigs, the sponge soaked up 64% of a cancer drug injected upstream, and medics hope the device will help avoid chemotherapy's dangerous side effects while safely delivering higher doses.

Engineering concept

Professor Nitash Balsara, a member of the research team from the University of California at Berkeley, said: "An absorber is a standard chemical engineering concept. Absorbers are used in petroleum refining to remove unwanted chemicals such as sulphur.

"Literally, we've taken the concept out of petroleum refining and applied it to chemotherapy."

While scientists have focused on liver cancer, they say the technique could be used whenever a tumour is confined to any organ.

Chemotherapy is typically accompanied by major side effects including nausea, vomiting, hair loss, suppression of the immune system and anaemia.

The scientists spent more than a year perfecting a way to adhere the polymer to a 3D printed cylinder that could be placed inside a vein.


"Fitting the cylinder in the vein is important," said Prof Balsara. "If the fit is poor, then the blood with the dissolved drug will flow past the cylinder without interacting with the absorbent."

In practice, the device would probably have to be customised for individual patients, he added.

The research is reported in the journal ACS Central Science.

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