MIT’s Oliver Jonas, Robert Langer, and colleagues have developed an implantable device that allows doctors to test cancer drugs in patients before prescribing chemotherapy.
The tiny device can carry small doses of 30 drugs. After implanting it in a tumor and allowing the drugs to diffuse into the tissue, researchers can measure how effectively each destroys a patient’s cancer cells. The guesswork involved in choosing treatments can be minimized.
Most cancer drugs work by damaging DNA or interfering with cell function. Scientists have developed more targeted drugs, designed to kill tumor cells that carry a specific genetic mutation. However, it is usually difficult to predict whether a particular drug will be effective in an individual patient.
Doctors sometimes extract tumor cells, grow them in a lab, and treat them with different drugs to determine which are most effective. This process removes the cells from their natural environment, which can play an important role in a tumor’s response to drug treatment.
According to Jonas, the implant “essentially puts the lab into the patient. It’s safe, and sensitivity testing can be done in the native microenvironment.”