Drug Sponge to Reduce Adverse Effects of Cancer Treatment


Inserted into the bloodstream to absorb excess drugs, the sponge is meant to minimize the effect of chemotherapy agents or even deliver higher doses to knock back tumors. The chemofilter is made out of an absorbent polymer coated over a 3D printed cylinder which fits precisely in a vein that carries the blood flowing out of the target organ.

Surgeons snake a wire into the bloodstream and place the sponge like a stent, and just leave it in for the amount of time you give chemotherapy, perhaps a few hours”, explained Nitash Balsara,  professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.


Early testing showed that the prototype could absorb on average 64 percent of doxorubicin, a cytotoxic drug, when it was injected upstream.

Whenever they are administering chemotherapy, doctors are walking a thin line between giving patients a dose that is sufficiently high to kill or stop the growth of cancer cells, but not high enough to irreparably damage the patient’s other organs. As most anticancer drugs are poisonous, they typically induce several side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and suppression of the immune system, not to mention hair loss and ulcers.

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 – and we already treat liver cancer using intra-arterial chemotherapy”, added Steven Hetts, an interventional radiologist at UC San Francisco.

What makes this approach even more exciting, is the flexibility it can provide, both in terms of possible diseases or illnesses it can be applied to and the number of drugs used. Limiting the indirect damage done to other organs or surrounding tissue can greatly improve patient quality of life and prognosis.