A new, MIT-developed hydrogel patch could provide a more targeted, triple-therapy approach to treating tumors. With benefits to using the patch both before and after tumor removal, and with tests of laboratory mice showing extremely positive results, the little patch could have a big impact on cancer treatment.

While our understanding of cancer, from key contributory factors to its ability to spread around the body, is constantly evolving, it's still an incredibly deadly disease, causing an estimated 8.2 million deaths global in 2012. Colorectal cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the condition, with approximately one in 20 people in the US developing the disease at some point in their life.

When a patient is diagnosed, the first stage of treatment is usually surgery to remove the tumor, but it's difficult to get rid of 100 percent of cancer cells. Often, cells are left behind, leading to the growth of new tumors somewhere down the line. We've seen efforts to tackle the issue in the past, with scientists working with unique compounds that can illuminate cancerous cells in the presence of near-infrared light.

Furthermore, even once the tumor itself is removed, common follow-up treatments, such as chemotherapy, simply don't differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells, giving rise to some pretty serious side effects.

The new MIT-developed patch is designed to address these issues. It can be stuck to the tumor site either before or after the removal surgery, where it delivers a multi-stage attack on the cancerous cells.

The hydrogel patch contains gold nanorods loaded with chemotherapy drugs. Heating up the nanorods via the local application of infrared radiation kills off nearby tumor cells, and causes the chemotherapy drugs to be released.

Gold nanospheres are also embedded in the patch. They're engineered so as not to heat up in the presence of infrared radiation, but instead stay cool, delivering RNA, or gene therapy, to the site. The therapy silences a particular gene central to colorectal cancer, responsible for causing healthy cells to mutate into tumor cells.

The beauty of the patch is that it can be used at multiple stages during treatment. It can be placed at a tumor site, shrinking it down prior to removal, or applied to the inner surface of the colon following removal, lowering the chance of dangerous cells surviving.

The researchers tested out the novel patch in mice. When the patch wasn't applied following tumor removal, in 40 percent of cases, the cancer returned. However, whenever the patch was applied after removal, there was no re-occurrence of the disease, with no new tumors forming.

In fact, in the animal testing, the researchers found the patch to be so effective that it's placement over a tumor, in the absence of any removal surgery, was enough to completely destroy it.

Looking forward, the team hopes to test the patch on larger animals in the lab, allowing for the use of colonoscopy equipment during treatment. The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Materials.

Source: MIT