A clever new device developed by Presage Biosciences of Seattle may soon be assisting oncologists in quickly finding the right chemotherapy drug for their individual patients.
An article in the MIT Technology Review profiles the new gadget, which injects minute amounts of a variety of different cancer drugs into the tumor while it is still inside the body. Then, when it is removed, the tumor can be examined to see which drugs killed the cancerous cells. At that point, oncologists can administer that particular drug throughout the rest of the body.
The advantages of such a device are two-fold. First of all, it can assist the oncologist in finding an effective treatment quickly, increasing the chance of survival or – at the least – a longer life expectancy. Secondly, the quick discovery of the “right” chemotherapy drug will lessen the suffering often endured by patients as their doctor experiments with various drugs.
Jim Olson, the pediatric neuro-oncologist and scientist who is the founder of Presage Biosciences, explains that when a doctor gives a patient a particular chemotherapy drug, there is never a guarantee that it will work. If it’s the wrong drug, he adds, the only thing it will do is cause harmful side effects.
“I am sick of writing prescriptions for kids to give them experimental therapies that have a 94 percent chance of failing and that will more than likely make them sick,” says Olson, who is employed by Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center,
Presage’s new device includes several tiny needles that inject what Olson describes as “a fifth of a raindrop” of various drugs into the tumor through the skin. The needles then thread thin columns of each drug into the tumor which, when removed, can be sliced into thin sections. Each section is then examined for markers of successful drug activity.
The device is currently being used by Millennium Pharmaceuticals to test cancer drug combinations on solid tumors in lab animals. Mark Manfredi, senior director of cancer pharmacology at Millennium is impressed with the new contraption.
“The Presage technology is definitely unique,” he says. Being able to test drugs in the body is a huge advantage. We are able to then pursue a broad set of questions with the Presage technology faster than a traditional study where the drug is delivered systemically.”