Surgical removal of a tissue sample is now the standard for diagnosing cancer. Such procedures, known as biopsies, are accurate but only offer a snapshot of the tumour at a single moment in time.
Monitoring a tumour for weeks or months after the biopsy would be much more valuable, says Michael Cima, who has developed the first implantable device that can do just that.
The devices, which could be implanted at the time of biopsy, could also be tailored to monitor chemotherapy agents, allowing doctors to determine whether cancer drugs are reaching the tumours. They can also be designed to measure pH (acidity) or oxygen levels, which reveal tumour metabolism and how it is responding to therapy.
With current tools for detecting whether a tumour has spread, such as biopsy, by the time you have test results it's too late to prevent metastasis, said Cima.
"This is one of the tools we are going to need if we are going to turn cancer from a death sentence to a manageable disease," he said.
In the Biosensors & Bioelectronics study, human tumours were transplanted into the mice, and the researchers then used the implants to track levels of human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced by human tumour cells.
The cylindrical, five-millimetre implant contains magnetic nanoparticles coated with antibodies specific to the target molecules. Target molecules enter the implant through a semipermeable membrane, bind to the particles and cause them to clump together. That clumping can be detected by MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
The device is made of a polymer called polyethylene, which is commonly used in orthopedic implants. The semipermeable membrane, which allows target molecules to enter but keeps the magnetic nanoparticles trapped inside, is made of polycarbonate, a compound used in many plastics.
Cima said he believes an implant to test for pH levels could be commercially available in a few years, followed by devices to test for complex chemicals such as hormones and drugs.
MEDICA.de; Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology