Faculty Editor: Professor Jeffrey DaCosta

Cancer treatment is a challenging balancing act; the therapeutics used are poisonous and require a dosage powerful enough to kill or stop the growth of cancer cells without causing excessive damage to the surrounding healthy tissues. Thus, chemotherapeutics are often associated with toxic side effects, as more than 50-80% of the injected drug is not absorbed by the tumor and instead circulates throughout the body in the bloodstream (Oh et al., 2019). A team of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have generated a potential solution to this dilemma through the development of a 3D printed “drug sponge” to capture chemotherapeutics in the bloodstream before they are released into the body. These absorbers have the potential to minimize the side effects of chemotherapy and even allow the delivery of higher dosage therapeutics to target tumors that don’t respond to standard treatment (Cohut, 2019). 

The “drug sponge” itself is a porous absorber built using 3D printing technology to fit precisely into the vein draining the target organ to capture excess chemotherapeutic drugs. The use of 3D printing allows the absorber to be fitted exactly to a patient’s vein, optimizing absorption of the chemotherapeutic drugs. The concept of the absorber was actually an adaptation from the process  of petroleum refinement, where absorbers are used to remove unwanted contaminants such as sulfur (Cohut, 2019). The absorber is deployed only for a few hours during the administration of chemotherapy. Because the device is placed only temporarily, the risk of side effects is reduced, thus increasing the likelihood for FDA approval and decreasing the time it will take to reach patients (Cohut, 2019).

The absorbers have been developed around liver cancer because of the high incidence of the disease, but potentially could be adapted to other organs such as the brain or kidney (Cohut, 2019). The trials at UC Berkeley tested the absorbers in vivo for their ability to absorb the drug doxorubicin in the livers of pigs. In these preliminary trials, the absorbers captured 64% of doxorubicin without any noticeable adverse side effects (Oh et al., 2019). The researchers hope to increase the efficacy of the absorbers by altering the number of devices inserted or the chemical composition of the absorber and its coating (Oh et al., 2019). The next step for testing is to gain FDA approval for human trials, in order to expose the absorber to its more realistic role in human cancerous livers rather than the healthy livers of pigs (Cohut, 2019). Although there is further work to be done, the early success of these absorbers has implications for the treatment of all forms of cancer and even other diseases that are treated by toxic drugs, making it an exciting development for the medical field. 


Cohut, M. (2019, January 09). Cancer: A new ‘drug sponge’ may reduce chemo’s toxic effects. Retrieved March 10, 2019, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324140.php

Oh, H. J., Aboian, M. S., Yi, M. Y., Maslyn, J. A., Loo, W. S., Jiang, X., . . . Balsara, N. P. (2019). 3D Printed Absorber for Capturing Chemotherapy Drugs before They Spread through the Body. ACS Central Science,5(3), 419-427. doi:10.1021/acscentsci.8b00700

Related Posts