Cornell Researcher Develops Implantable Device that Kills Cancer Cells

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Cornell researcher Michael King has developed an implantable device that captures and kills cancerous blood cells as they travel throughout the body, halting their spread. He calls the device a "lint brush" for the blood. King, who is an associate professor of biomedical engineering says the implantable cancer-killing device takes advantage of the body's natural ability to fight infection, and might be used to treat a variety of cancers.

King's research, due for publication in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering, shows how he uses the protein selectin to attract cancer cells, and TNR (tumor necrosis factor) to then kill the cancer. The implantable tube is coated with selectin. When the cancer cells adhere to the selectin coated surface of the tube, King exposed the cancer cells to TRAIL (Tumor Necrosis Factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand). When the cancer cells are released back into the bloodstream to die, the cancer-killing device stands ready to trap and destroy the next batch of deadly cancer cells. King says, "It's a little more sophisticated than just filtering the blood, because we're not just accumulating cancer cells on the surface."

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The device captures and destroys about 30% of cancer cells. Once it is implanted and enclosed into the body, the device could conceivably kill many more cancer cells. Combined with traditional cancer therapies, Dr. King believes his device could remove a large portion of cancer cells, destroy them, "and give the body a fighting chance to remove the rest of them."

The implantable device was tested on cancer of the prostate and colon. It will take several years before the implant can be used in humans. Dr. King says, "The actual physical device, when it gets eventually tested in humans, will probably look a lot like an arteriovenous shunt [a small tube, or shunt, that diverts blood flow] with our protein coating. This has never been tried before. It's a whole new way of approaching cancer treatment. There's a lot of work yet to be done, of course, before this actually helps people -- but this is how it starts."

Kuldeep Rana, a Cornell Ph.D. student, and Jane Liesveld, M.D., a clinician at the University of Rochester co-authored the study.

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