Implantable drug delivery device fights cancer while maintaining patients’ health

An implantable device incorporating nanofluidic technology will allow drugs for cancer and other ailments to be delivered more effectively and without damaging the general health of the patient, thanks to research from the University of Texas, San Antonio.

The nDSmini nanofluidic device, shown in section and being implanted.
The nDSmini nanofluidic device, shown in section and being implanted.

The device, developed by Dr Lyle Hood, a mechanical engineer, working with nanotechnology specialist Alessandro Grattoni of Houston Methodist Research Institute, can be used from a period of several days up to a few weeks or months.

Hood explained that the correct dose of a drug needs to be balanced between an amount that is effective against the disease and the amount that begins to be harmful to the patient’s system. This balance is often quite delicate, which means that patients who need frequent doses of a specific medicine often have to visit a doctor or clinic regularly for injections or transfusions, which is often inconvenient and burdensome for both patients, their families and staff.

The sustained-release device was originally developed by Grattoni to deliver HIV drugs over a year. “In HIV treatment, you can bombard the virus with drugs to the point that the patient is no longer infectious and shows no symptoms,” Hood explained. “The danger is that if the person stops taking their drugs, the amount of medicine in his or her system drops below the effective dose and the virus is able to become resistant to the treatments.”

Grattoni’s device prevents this happening by delivering a constant but small amounts of the drugs; and Hood describes in a paper in the Journal Of Biomedical Nanotechnology how he has developed a smaller version designed to be implanted below the skin to deliver anti-cancer drugs directly to a tumour. “It’s an implantable capsule, filled with a medicinal fluid that uses 5000 nanochannels to regulate the release of the medicine,” Hood said.

Other possible applications include delivery of anti-inflammatory drugs like cortisone to damaged joints, or possibly the emerging treatment of immunotherapy for cancer, where a long-term dosage or mixture of drugs and other agents encourage the body’s own defences to recognise cancer as a foreign body and destroy it.

Although the current versions the device is implantable, Hood is now working with a biomedical engineer, Teja Guda, to develop a 3D printed version made from biodegradable materials, which could be swallowed.