London: Scientists have developed a pump-like implant to remove the dangerous build-up of fluid in the body that many cancers cause.
A 62-year-old British woman with ovarian cancer has become the world`s first person to have the pump implanted under her skin at the Hammersmith Hospital in London.
The implant is a pump that removes a fluid called ascites; secreted by cancer cells, which builds up in the body, becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
Cancer patients need regular hospital visits to drain fluid off due to discomfort it causes but the new pump drains fluid from the abdomen into the bladder, where it is expelled in the urine.
The unnamed woman is said to have been in great discomfort, requiring five litres of fluid being drained from her abdomen every three weeks.
About a third of women with ovarian cancer develop ascites, a build-up of fluid in the abdomen. Cancers of the bowel, pancreas, uterus and breast can also cause the problem.
The alfapump, as it is known, could also provide doctors with a new means of monitoring the progress of the ovarian cancer by allowing them to easily and regularly examine cancer cells from the ascites passed out in the urine, without the need for biopsy.
This might allow the identification of changes in the disease state, and with this the ability to tailor treatment to individuals and, possibly, improve the disease outcome.
A full clinical trial is due to start soon and the implant will not be routinely available on the National Health Service (NHS) for some time, but if successful it could change treatment for many types of cancer.
The pump has previously been used to treat liver patients.
Professor Hani Gabra, Director, Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre is leading the trial of the pump. He said although the pump was used in an ovarian cancer patient on this occasion, ascites were common in various types of cancer.
"The alfapump has the potential to provide an exciting opportunity to monitor ovarian cancer patients more closely and tailor our care to individual patients," he said.
"My hope is that this will be a major breakthrough in our approach to the treatment of ovarian cancer," he added.
He described the device, which charges wirelessly through the skin, as `smaller than an iPod`.