Chemical Engineer Helps Devise Drug Sponge to Reduce Chemo Side Effects

Doctors hope to use sponges inserted in the bloodstream to absorb excess chemotherapy drugs to reduce the harsh and often dangerous side effects of these cancer-fighting treatments. The search to develop this technology led researchers to a UC Berkeley chemical engineer, Nitash P. Balsara, who is a professor of chemical and bimolecular engineering.

How the drug sponge works

The sponge is actually a polymer-coated, 3-D printed cylinder that is made to fit precisely inside a vein that carries blood flowing out of the target organ. In the case of liver cancer, the first major target for this treatment, the drug would be injected upstream to the liver tumor, allowing it to attack the cancer cells. Blood flowing out of the tumor, however, would pass through the sponge where much of the drug would be absorbed before it could reach and damage other healthy tissue in the body.

“Surgeons snake a wire into the bloodstream and place the sponge like a stent, and just leave it in for the amount of time you give chemotherapy, perhaps a few hours,” said Balsara in an article published by UC Berkeley.

Could help for multiple types of cancer

Because the device is temporary and thus carriers lower requirements for FDA approval, says Steven Hetts, an interventional radiologist at UC San Francisco who first approached Balsara in search of a way to remove drugs from the bloodstream,  this type of chemofilter could be available to patients relatively quickly.

Due to its significant threat to public health,  liver cancer is the primary target for this technology, but the researchers hope to eventually use the device for many different types of cancer.

For more on this technology, see the UC Berkeley article and the researchers' published work