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Discovery & Development Technology and Equipment

Soak it Up!

Chemotherapy represents a lifeline to thousands of cancer patients worldwide, but the side effects can be detrimental to various organs within the body. Researchers behind the creation of a 3D printed chemofilter device – which they refer to as a drug sponge designed to “soak up” excess chemotherapy – hope their invention will transform the future use of these drugs.

The sponge was developed at the University of California, Berkeley, and inspired by a standard petroleum refining concept where absorbers are used to remove sulfur and other unwanted chemicals from petroleum. The device, developed by Nitash Balsara, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the university, and his colleagues uses a 3D printed cylinder and absorbent polymer coating to soak up unwanted chemotherapeutics. The chemofilter can be inserted directly into the veins of target organs, and the researchers have demonstrated that it can help prevent harmful side effects (1). Carbon Inc, a specialist company in 3D printing, is collaborating with the team to produce the customized drug sponges.

Initially, the technology has been designed to focus on liver cancer, an area the research team felt very strongly about. “There are tens of thousands of new cases every year and the condition is a massive public health threat. We already treat liver cancer using intra-arterial chemotherapy. However, you could use this sort of approach for any tumor or any disease that is confined to an organ,” explains Steven Hetts, an interventional radiologist at UC San Francisco, who worked alongside the scientists at Berkeley to develop the device.

Early tests conducted by the team at Berkeley showed that the device was able to absorb up to 64 percent of doxorubicin, a chemotherapeutic, from the liver when injected at an upstream site in the livers of pigs. The cylindrical device was inserted into the pigs’ blood vessels in the same way a stent would be, and remained in their veins for the same duration as the chemotherapy treatment. The fit of the device is crucial to its function. If poorly administered, poisonous chemotherapeutics flow past the sponge and potentially to other organs without interacting with the filter.

The next step, and real test for the technology, will be human trials, which are expected to begin in a few years. In time, the team also hope to apply the technology to other potentially dangerous drugs, such as high-powered antibiotics.

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  1. N Balsara et al., “3D Printed Absorber for Capturing Chemotherapy Drugs before They Spread through the Body”, ACS Cent. Sci. (2019).
About the Author
Maryam Mahdi

Deputy Editor

After finishing my degree, I envisioned a career in science communications. However, life took an unexpected turn and I ended up teaching abroad. Though the experience was amazing and I learned a great deal from it, I jumped at the opportunity to work for Texere. I'm excited to see where this new journey takes me!

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