What if we could find out if a cancer drug is working or not almost instantly? Cancer patients could avoid the frustration of suffering through painful side effects and lost time only to learn that the treatment wasn't effective.
Professor Michael Cima and his team at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT may have come up with the answer. They're building on what is already the best practice for detecting cancer, which is the biopsy. Unfortunately, the information that is retrieved from a biopsy only tells the doctor what's happening with the tumor in the very moment that it's taken, like a photograph, and tumors are constantly changing and diversifying, especially during treatment.
In order to monitor the progress of a tumor doctors need a better tool - one that can monitor a tumor continuously. If a biopsy is equal to a photograph, Professor Cima is working on building a video camera.
His video camera comes in the form of a tiny implant that is so small it fits inside a biopsy needle. It is implanted in the tumor during a routine biopsy, which means it requires no extra procedure or treatment. Even though the implant is small enough to fit into a needle, there are thousands of tiny iron nanoparticles trapped inside like leaves in a tea bag. Its porous outer layer allows fluids to move in and out of the implant, and when cancer related molecules flow in, the iron nanoparticles cluster around it. The resulting clumps can be detected with a non invasive magnetic scan allowing doctors to monitor the tumor over time, letting them know the progress of a patient's treatment and providing doctors with a real-time snapshot of the tumor itself.