Cancer ‘Sponge’ Soaks Up Excess Chemo

It’s no secret that chemotherapy is toxic to our bodies. It causes hair loss, nausea, weakness, diarrhea, and the dreaded “chemo brain.”

It can also save your life.

But an experiment with 3-D printed “sponge” device offers hope that patients may someday be able to go through chemotherapy with drastically reduced side effects. In the experiment, the sponges acted as chemo filters that trapped the chemo drug from a major blood vessel after it had already passed through a cancer tumor.

“Literally, we’ve taken the concept out of petroleum refining and applied it to chemotherapy,” said lead study author Professor Nitash Balsara.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Juan Gärtner

The sponge was created by 3-D printing a support structure and then coating that structure with a nanostructured block copolymer. The outer part of the block connects to the support structure and the inner part attracts the chemo drug, in this case doxorubicin, which is a common, highly effective chemo drug associated with a lot of harsh side effects.

The device is designed to be inserted via endovascular surgery, which means the device is placed inside a blood vessel. It’s placed and used like a stent and only remains in the body for the duration of the chemo session. When used in pigs with liver cancer, the sponges captured about 64 percent of the chemo drug without any immediate device-related side effects.

Photo: Adobe Stock/peckyhyong

If viable in humans, the sponge device could both greatly reduce chemotherapy side effects and possibly increase chemo’s effectiveness. If side effects were reduced, patients may be able to tolerate more frequent doses. This could make a big difference in patients with more aggressive cancers or with tumors that don’t respond well to surgery.

The chemo-soaking sponges will need to be tested in humans before they’re approved for use in normal treatmetn, and specific sponges would need to be designed for each of the different chemo drugs.

Photo: Adobe Stock/

If even partially effective, the device could mean easier, more effective chemo treatment for those fighting cancer.

Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.

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