Brain and Body

MIT Developed an Implantable Device to Help Target Pancreatic Cancers

April 19, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Implantable PLGA polymer for pancreatic cancer
Photo credit: Bryce Vickmark (CC by 3.0)

It's 12 times more effective than traditional chemo.

Researchers from MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a small, implantable device that could be used to deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to pancreatic tumors.

Pancreatic tumors are among the leading causes of cancer deaths in the United States, largely due to the complications involved in getting targeted chemotherapy drugs to reach the pancreas. The pancreas is hidden deep within the abdomen and is surrounded by a thick, fibrous coating, making it a difficult target to reach with injections.

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Now, the latest implantable device from MIT promises to change all that. Researchers engineered the device from a flexible polymer film called PLGA, which has been used before in other medical applications for drug delivery.  

The flexible film can be rolled up into a small tube that can then be inserted through a catheter until it reaches the patient’s pancreas, making it a minimal invasive procedure.  Drugs with pre-programmed release times can be embedded onto the flexible polymer film before it’s inserted into a patient, allowing the device to reach its target before the drugs are released.

“Because it’s very flexible it can adapt to whatever size and shape the tumor will have,” said Laura Indolfi, one of the study’s lead authors, in a press release.

In the study, the researchers compared two groups of mice that received transplanted human pancreatic tumors. One group received the implanted device which targeted the pancreas directly to deliver chemotherapy drugs. The second group received chemotherapy drugs through systemic injections over a 4-week period.   

By comparing the two groups of mice, researchers found they were able to deliver the chemotherapy drugs twelve times more effectively using the implant than through injections, which is the way pancreatic cancer patients are currently treated.

“It’s clear there is huge potential for a device that can localize treatment at the disease site, you can implant our device to achieve a localized drug release to control tumor progression and potentially shrink [the tumor] to a size where a surgeon can remove it,” Indolfi said.

The latest drug delivery device could be a definite game changer in they way pancreatic cancers are treated and could even extend the lifespan of those patients suffering from inoperable pancreatic tumors.

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