Chemical Engineers' Technology Shows Promise for Treating Cancer and HIV

SQZ Biotech, a company founded by a group of MIT chemical engineers, thinks it may have a very good solution to help battle diseases such as cancer and HIV. One great hurdle for treating these diseases is that human cells generally reject foreign materials, even when they are proteins or small molecules of drugs meant to treat a disease.

Today, a report in MIT’s Technology Review explains some of the science behind the technique. The company’s invention is a microfluidic device that essentially squeezes a cell through a narrow passage. When forced through the passage, the cell stretches and becomes  temporarily permeable, allowing for the introduction of foreign materials.

Now a reserach tool, but tomorrow perhaps medicine

The report points out that while the technology is now being used strictly for research, it shows real promise for treatment, particularly in immunotherapy, where a patient’s immune cells are modified to target a disease.

Cofounder Robert Langer, who is the David H. Institute Professor at MIT and an active member of AIChE, told Technology Review, “SQZ’s system has shown that it can deliver many materials, such as proteins, small molecules, and RNA, to immune cells more efficiently and with less toxicity than existing technologies.”

The company’s device requires users to draw blood and remove the white blood cells. The white blood cells are then put in the device that pumps them through microscopic passages where they are squeezed to force foreign material into the cell. The treated blood cells can then be returned to the subject.

MIT reports that SQZ’s devices are currently used by biologists but that the company has initiated testing the device for use in experimental medical treatments.  

For more information, you can visit the SQZ Biotech site and read the Technology Review article