A new removable filter, dubbed a “sponge” by some, has been developed that can absorb toxic chemotherapy drugs as they move away from tumors.
The device was highlighted in a report by the Independent. It has the potential to reduce the toxic side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients through straining leftover drugs from the bloodstream before they cause damage to the brain.
The sponge-like device could also help reduce hair loss in patients undergoing chemotherapy. The filter has so far only been tested on animals, but the results are promising. In some animal tests, up to two-thirds of the excess drugs were successfully absorbed when the filter was placed in a major vein that led away from the tumor.
The leftover drugs can have devastating effects on patients, including damage to the immune system, ulcers, and nausea. Researchers conducted trials in pigs using the drug doxorubicin, which is used to treat liver cancer. In these trials, the filter managed to absorb 64% of the drug.
Doxorubicin kills sensitive hair follicles and blood cells, leading to other side effects such as hair loss, anemia, and an increased risk of infection.
Aside from reducing the unwanted side effects from cancer drugs, the filter could also help doctors tackle the disease more effectively, as they would be able to administer higher doses of drugs which are currently considered to be too toxic.
The new device drew inspiration from an unusual source. Researchers from the University of California at Berkley said that the filter works in a similar way to absorbers that remove impurities like sulfur from fuel.
Writing in the journal ACS Central Science, Professor Nitash Balsara explained that he and his colleagues had literally “taken the concept out of petroleum refining and applied it to chemotherapy.”
Balsara also explained how the procedure works, adding that the “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.”
The device, which has been nicknamed the “chemofilter,” has been likened to both a stent (used routinely in cardiovascular medicine) and a catalytic converter in car exhaust. Its honeycomb structure is coated with a polymer that prevents the drug from being released.
Dr. Stephen Hetts is another of the scientists to have worked on this project, and he is optimistic about its future use in medicine. He believes that if the chemofilter proves to be effective in humans, it could be quickly approved for patient use because it is a removable implant.
He added that, although they chose to focus on liver cancer because it is such a large threat to public health, the device could be adapted to treat other diseases. “If you think about it, you could use this sort of approach for any tumor or any disease that is confined to an organ, and you want to absorb the drug on the venous side before it can distribute and cause side effects elsewhere in the body.”
With such promising results so far, the chemofilter may signal a new breakthrough in the fight against cancer and its crippling side effects.