Scientists at Rice University in the United States have been granted $45 million in funding to develop a sense-and-respond implant technology that has the potential to significantly reduce cancer deaths. The grant was awarded to a team of scientists from seven different states, led by Rice University. Their aim is to create and assess a novel cancer therapy strategy that could improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy for patients with refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, as well as pancreatic and other difficult-to-treat tumors.
The new strategy involves implanting a small device through a minimally invasive procedure, which continuously monitors the patient’s cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real-time. This approach, known as closed-loop therapy, is inspired by the management of diabetes using an insulin pump and glucose monitor.
The team of scientists, comprised of engineers, healthcare professionals, and specialists from various fields including synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, electrical engineering, and artificial intelligence, among others, have named their collaborative initiative “THOR” (targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation). The implant developed by the THOR team is called HAMMR (hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator).
Current diagnostic tools for monitoring cancer progression, such as radiologic tests, blood assays, and biopsies, provide infrequent and limited snapshots of the dynamic process of cancer cells evolving and adapting to therapy. This limits the ability to effectively treat cancer as a constantly changing disease. The THOR implant aims to provide real-time data from the tumor environment, allowing for more effective and tumor-specific therapies.
Dr. Amir Jazaeri, a co-principal investigator and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, expressed optimism about the potential of THOR to transform cancer treatment. He believes that real-time data from the tumor environment could guide the development of more effective therapies.
The technology developed by the Rice University team is not limited to ovarian cancer. It has broad applicability for other peritoneal cancers affecting organs such as the pancreas, liver, and lungs.
The $45 million grant will support the initial clinical trial of the THOR implant, focusing on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer. If successful, the implant technology could potentially reduce cancer deaths by more than 50 percent, offering hope for a significant improvement in cancer treatment outcomes.