Brain tumors are extremely difficult to treat due to their hard-to-access location and because the blood-brain barrier prevents most drugs from reaching their targets. A new device called “Tumor Monorail,” which cajoles tumors to crawl into a container, just received the FDA’s “breakthrough” designation. The new designation will speed the device through the rest of the FDA regulatory process, though it does not guarantee that it will be approved for use.
The Tumor Monorail consists of polymer nanofibers connected to a cartridge containing a toxic hydrogel. As far as the tumor cells are concerned, the device resembles white brain matter where the two hemispheres of the brain meet, a popular target for brain tumors to spread through. Tumor cells are therefore fooled into moving towards it. As the cells move along the fibers and enter the hydrogel chamber, they are killed and so not given a chance to spread.
This is probably the only example of tumors moving toward a drug rather than a drug being introduced to kill the tumors. Since only the tumor is affected, there’s no systemic impact on the rest of the body.
This technology was originally tried in laboratory rats by researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University, who showed that, “Tumour volume in the brain was significantly lower following insertion of aligned nanofibre implants compared with the application of smooth fibres or no implants,” according to a 2014 study in journal Nature Materials. Duke University researchers are also working on helping to move the Tumor Monorail toward commercialization.