Researchers from MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a small, implantable device that delivers chemotherapy drugs directly to pancreatic tumors. Using mice, the team determined that the implant approach was up to 12 times more effective than the common method of delivering chemotherapy drugs by intravenous injection.

“It’s clear there is huge potential for a device that can localize treatment at the disease site,” says Laura Indolfi, a postdoc in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and the MGH Cancer Center, who is one of the study’s lead authors. “You can implant our device to achieve a localized drug release to control tumor progression and potentially shrink [the tumor] to a size where a surgeon can remove it.”

Injections of chemotherapy drugs often fail because the pancreas is so deep within the body. Additionally, pancreatic tumors are often surrounded by a thick, fibrous coating that keeps drugs out. To bring drugs directly to the tumor site, the researchers engineered a flexible polymer film.

The PLGA material can be rolled into a narrow tube and inserted through a catheter. Once the film reaches the pancreas, it unfolds and conforms to the shape of the tumor. Drugs are embedded into the film and then released over a pre-programmed period of time.