We know that chemotherapy can work for cancer patients, but we also know about the side effects. As well as stopping cancer cells from reproducing, it also has the potential to damage healthy cells, which can lead to hair loss, perpetual tiredness, sickness and vomiting, skin problems, and an increased risk of picking up infections. While the former plus outranks the myriad minuses, no-one is pretending that chemo is easy.
However, news of a trial in the USA indicates that a solution could be on the way – in the shape of an implant which acts as a sponge, straining away the leftover residue of chemo drugs from the bloodstream before they damage the brain or cause hair loss.
According to the trial – which was conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkley – a filter which was used in testing on animals absorbed up to two-thirds of the unwanted drugs, when it was placed in a major vein leading away from the site of a tumour.
Chemotherapy impurities removed
Amazingly, the idea for the filter was inspired by absorbers used to remove unwanted impurities like sulphur from petrol and works like the stents already routinely used in cardiovascular medicine.
If the results can be reproduced in human tests, this new device could potentially allow the medical community to deliver chemo drugs in higher doses which would usually be too toxic to be used medically.
Researchers from the University of California at Berkley said. “Literally, we’ve taken the concept out of petroleum refining and applied it to chemotherapy,” claimed Professor Nitash Balsara, one of the study authors.
Introducing the Chemofilter
The filter – dubbed the ‘Chemofilter’ – was tested on pigs with the liver cancer chemotherapy drug doxorubicin. Surgeons fitted a wire into the bloodstream and placed the sponge like a stent, leaving it in during the time of therapy. Boasting a honeycomb structure coated with a polymer which reacts with the drug and prevents it being released – just like the catalytic convertor in a car exhaust – the tests reaped very promising results.
According to the study results, the Chemofilter captured 64 per cent of the drug that would otherwise have circulated around the body and caused the usual damage – and the good news, according to another of the authors, is that if it’s shown to work in humans, the fact that it’s a removable implant means that it could be available sooner rather than later.
“We are developing this around liver cancer because it is a big public health threat – there are tens of thousands of new cases every year,” said Dr Steven Hetts. “But if you think about it, you could use this sort of approach for any tumour 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.”
Obviously, it goes without saying that testing is still in the early phase – and what works on animals may not work on humans – but something like this could eradicate a lot of the negative elements of chemo, so it’ll be worth keeping tabs on.
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