Alydaar Rangwala, Nikhil Mehandru,
Aaron Perez, and Brandon Sim
Theratech, Loudonville, NY

The world is facing a global cancer crisis. In 2011, 13.7 million new cancer cases and 8.6 million cancer deaths occurred worldwide. More than half of the new cases, and nearly twothirds of deaths, were in developing countries. Despite substantial innovations, there remains a lack of treatment methods that are cost-effective enough to be widely and practically implemented in these countries.

The ChemoPatch team (from left): Aaron Perez, Alydaar Rangwala, Nikhil Mehandru, and Brandon Sim.
The existing methods for administration of these drugs have been primarily through intravenous delivery via a complex and costly pole-based infusion pump setup. These setups are needed to administer complex drug schedules and as a result, infusion pumps have prevented treatment for early-stage cancers from becoming widely accessible.

Four Harvard University students of various disciplines have founded Theratech, and have introduced the ChemoPatch™, a low-cost, disposable, electronic patch-based cancer chemotherapy device designed to be simple, automated, and easy to use by cancer patients outside of the hospital, yet cutting-edge in its ability to deliver quality early-stage chemotherapy.

Iontophoretic electronic technology was first introduced to the market in the 2000s as an alternative to infusion-based setups, but was never proven to be adequate for two main reasons: 1) it requires chemotherapy infusion drugs to be reformulated for storage in the iontophoretic patch reservoir, and 2) it only allows for administration of one drug at a time.

The solution, the ChemoPatch, fills both of these technology gaps at a much lower price. Chemotherapy drugs can be loaded as they currently exist, and the ChemoPatch is able to administer three different chemotherapy drugs in select doses and at specific time intervals. Additionally, drug delivery is automated, allowing patients to reduce the frequency of hospital visits.

This innovative technology is the result of employing cutting- edge microfabrication resources at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Specifically, the ChemoPatch consists of four components:

  1. A novel, patent-pending micropump for drug delivery
  2. A drug reservoir that contains up to three separate chemotherapy drugs
  3. A microneedle array for the painless administration of drugs
  4. A simple microcontroller-based electronic circuit for complex programmable delivery scheduling

As per quotes from raw material suppliers and device assembly manufacturers, the device has a production cost of only $35 per unit when completely assembled and sterilized.

At the heart of the ChemoPatch is a patent-pending plastic based and low-cost micropump technology. This is the first highly accurate micropump that is completely plastic-based, allowing for the first truly disposable micropump-based patch technology for drug delivery.

In order to demonstrate the viability of the ChemoPatch, a pilot study is being conducted of early-stage breast cancer in India within the next 12 months. With over 115,000 new diagnoses in India each year, there is a sizable need for better treatment. Eventually, the ChemoPatch will be introduced in the United States, pending regulatory approval. The end goal is to bridge the gap between technology and cost-effectiveness in high-quality, first-line cancer care, making it accessible for all.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2013 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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