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New Sense-and-Respond Implant Technology Could Halve Cancer-Related Deaths

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 28 Sep 2023
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Image: A prototype of an implant being developed to treat difficult-to-treat cancers (Photo courtesy of Rice University)
Image: A prototype of an implant being developed to treat difficult-to-treat cancers (Photo courtesy of Rice University)

Cancer cells are constantly evolving and becoming resistant to treatment. Despite this, current diagnostic methods, such as imaging tests, blood tests, and tissue samples, offer only infrequent and limited views of these changes. Therefore, existing treatments often approach cancer as if it's a static disease. Now, a new miniature implant capable of continuously monitoring a patient's cancer and adjusting their immunotherapy dose in real-time could become a game-changer. This device could supply real-time data from the tumor site, which could then be used to tailor more effective, tumor-specific therapies.

A team of researchers led by Rice University (Houston, TX, USA) has been awarded a USD 45 million grant by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) to speed up the development of a sense-and-respond implant technology that could reduce cancer-related fatalities in the U.S. by over half. The research group is comprised of engineers, physicians, and multidisciplinary specialists in synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, electrical engineering, artificial intelligence, and other fields spanning 20 different research labs. The team is known as THOR, which stands for "targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation," while the implant has been dubbed HAMMR, short for "hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator." The grant is set to fast-track the development and testing of this novel approach, focusing on significantly enhancing immunotherapy results in patients suffering from hard-to-treat cancers such as ovarian and pancreatic types.

“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, the researchers will use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time. This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where a glucose monitor continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary. The THOR cooperative agreement includes funding for a first-phase clinical trial of HAMMR for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer. The trial is slated to begin in the fourth year of THOR’s 5 1/2-year project.

“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” said Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh, principal investigator on the ARPA-H cooperative agreement. “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. We'll be able to build on that experience. We have already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

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