Tiny flexible film designed to combat pancreatic cancer

MIT’s latest advancement is a tiny, flexible roll of film designed for localised cancer treatment.
The thin roll of film delivers preprogrammed medication
The thin roll of film delivers preprogrammed medication

Researchers at MIT have created an implantable device that attacks pancreatic cancer at the source. According to the university, pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the US. This is because life-saving drugs can’t reach the pancreas, which is embedded deep within the abdomen. But, tests run on mice show promise for a new form of treatment.

“It’s clear there is huge potential for a device that can localize treatment at the disease site,” says Laura Indolfi, a postdoc in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES). “You can implant our device to achieve a localized drug release to control tumor progression and potentially shrink [the tumor] to a size where a surgeon can remove it.”

The researchers engineered a flexible polymer film that is made from a polymer called PLGA, which is widely used for drug delivery and other medical applications. Using a catheter, the film is rolled into a narrow tube and inserted directly into the pancreas. Once the film reaches the pancreas, it unfolds and conforms to the shape of the tumor.

The drugs are embedded into the film and will release over a preprogrammed period of time. The film is designed so that the drug is only secreted from the side in contact with the tumor, minimizing side effects on nearby organs.

“This combination of local, timed, and controlled release, coupled with the judicious use of critical compounds, could address the vital problems that pancreatic cancer has provided as obstacles to pharmacological therapy,” says one of the paper’s lead authors Elazer Edelman.

Trials using mice showed that tumor growth was found to slow down and even shrink. The amount of necrotic tissue increased, dead cancer cells more easily removed through surgery, and secondary tumour growth in nearby organs was reduced.

While the trials show promise, it’s still a long way to go before the device can be safely tested on humans.