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"Sponge Bath" -- The Discovery Files

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When loaded with an anticancer drug, a delivery system based on a novel material called nanosponge is three to five times more effective at reducing tumor growth than direct injection.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

"Ex-sponging" a Tumor.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

You can use a sponge to take a bubble bath (Sound effect: water dripping), scrub a pan (Sound effect: scrubbing), or wash your car (Sound effect: water spraying) -- but now a system developed by a team of scientists led by Vanderbilt University uses sponges as an effective way to fight cancer.

The sponges they're using are nanosponges. "nano", as in microscopic -- so small they can be injected into the body. And although they're called "sponges", they're more like a network of biodegradable polyester strands with molecules attached.

The tiny sponges can soak up a healthy dose of cancer meds, and can be guided to release them directly into tumor cells in a controlled, sustained, predictable way, making them three- to five times more effective at reducing tumor growth than current direct-injection methods.

(Sound effect: medical monitoring sounds) But how are these spherical wonders guided to attach only to cancer cells? The team has given them chemical linkers that will only bond to features on the outside of cancer cells. Healthy cells are passed over and pretty much left alone.

There are other advantages to the sponge system. The chemistry is simple, making them easier to mass-produce -- and because of their water-solubility, additional chemical agents that can cause side effects don't need to be mixed with the meds. Next, the researchers will see if repeated nanosponge injections can stop or even reverse tumor growth.

Tiny sponges -- may be the future of cleaning up cancer.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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