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Northwestern researchers get $45M to develop implant to sense and treat cancer

Northwestern scientists developing cancer-fighting implant
Northwestern scientists developing cancer-fighting implant 00:28

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Scientists at Northwestern University have received $45 million in federal funding to develop a new implant that can detect and treat cancer.

The Northwestern researchers are part of a team of people from several institutions working to develop and test an implantable device able to sense signs of the kind of inflammation associated with cancer, and delivery therapy when needed.

Northwestern University cancer implant
Northwestern University researchers are helping develop an implantable device designed to detect and treat cancer. Brandon Martin/Rice University

"From a clinical perspective, this could be a game-changing approach to cancer therapy," said Dr. Jonathan Rivnay, a professor of biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering at Northwestern. "It's personalized, multi-modal and could improve access to care. This concept of a regulated cell-based therapy also is exciting for other areas of medicine, and this project allows us to develop the toolbox of components needed to make it a reality."

Northwestern said the implant could significantly improve outcomes for patients with ovarian, pancreatic and other difficult-to-treat cancers — potentially cutting cancer-related deaths in the U.S. in half.

A figure illustrating how a "closed-loop" implant, which will be used to treat recurrent ovarian cancer. Veiseh Lab/Rice University

"Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we'll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time," said Rice University bioengineer Omid Veiseh. "This kind of 'closed-loop therapy' has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it's revolutionary."

The project will take 5 ½ years, according to Northwestern.  

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