Skip to Content
MIT News magazine

Cancer Tracker

Implantable device monitors tumors
August 18, 2009

Surgical removal of a tissue sample is now the standard for diagnosing cancer. Such procedures, known as biopsies, are accurate but offer only a snapshot of the tumor at a single moment in time. Monitoring a tumor for weeks or months after the biopsy would be much more valuable, says Michael Cima, an MIT professor of materials science and engineering. He has developed the first implantable device that can do just that.

Mini monitor Grad student Christophoros Vassiliou ‘04, MEng ‘06 (right), holds the cancer monitoring device that Professor Michael Cima (left) developed with him and Grace Kim, PhD ‘08.

“What this does is basically take the lab and put it in the patient,” says Cima, who is also an investigator at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

The device, which could be implanted at the time of a biopsy, would provide up-to-the-minute information about a tumor–whether it’s growing or shrinking, whether chemotherapy drugs have reached it, and whether it has metastasized or is about to do so. In a paper published in the journal Biosensors & Bioelectronics, Cima and his colleagues recently reported that their device successfully tracked for one month a chemical produced by human tumors growing in mice.

The cylindrical, five-­millimeter implant contains magnetic nanoparticles coated with antibodies specific to target molecules such as hormones produced by tumor cells. When target molecules enter the implant through a semipermeable membrane, they bind to the particles and cause them to clump together. Magnetic resonance imaging can detect the clumps–and track whether they’re getting bigger or smaller.

Implants that can test for pH levels, which reveal a tumor’s metabolism and its response to chemotherapy, could be commercially available in a few years, Cima says. These would be followed by devices that test for complex chemicals such as hormones and drugs.

Unlike biopsies, such technologies could alert doctors that the original tumor has started shedding cancer cells before those cells can form new tumors. “This is one of the tools we’re going to need if we’re going to turn cancer from a death sentence to a manageable disease,” Cima says.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.