Sense-and-respond implant aims to improve cancer outcomes

Rice University is leading a $45m project to develop a so-called sense-and-respond implant aimed at more than halving deaths from cancer.


The award from the US Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) has gone to researchers from seven US states whose first-of-its-kind approach to cancer treatment aims to improve immunotherapy outcomes for patients with ovarian, pancreatic and other difficult-to-treat cancers.

Weiyi Peng, assistant professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of Houston’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is co-principal investigator and one of three group leaders of the project. She will lead preclinical testing of the targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation (THOR) technology, along with discovery of biomarkers associated with efficacy.

“By integrating a self-regulated circuit, the THOR technology can adjust the dose of immunotherapy reagents based on a patient’s responses,” Peng said in a statement. “With this new feature, THOR is expected to achieve better efficacy and minimise immune-related toxicity. We hope this personalised immunotherapy will revolutionise treatments for patients with peritoneal cancers that affect the liver, lungs and other organs.”

The technology is said to work through a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors a patient’s cancer and adjusts their dose in real time.

“This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary,” said Rice University bioengineer Omid Veiseh, principal investigator on the ARPA-H cooperative agreement.


The THOR cooperative agreement includes funding for a first-phase clinical trial of the hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator (HAMMR) implant for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer. The trial is slated to begin in the fourth year of THOR’s five-and-a-half-year project.

“The first clinical trial will focus on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, and the benefit of that is that we have an ongoing trial for ovarian cancer with our encapsulated cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology,” said Veiseh.

“We'll be able to build on that experience. We had already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

Peng collaborated with Veiseh and his team on the cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology that was published in Science Advances in 2022. She and Chunyu Xu, technical research supervisor at UH, investigated how the capsules reshape the tumour environment to achieve maximum tumour-fighting immune responses in pre-clinical cancer models.