The DITTCe project: how IMDEA Materials Institute has joined the fight against cancer

Tomorrow, September 24th, World Cancer Research Day is celebrated. To commemorate this important day, IMDEA Materials Institute speaks with Dr. Mónica Echeverry, principal investigator of the DITTCe project. This project, led by the Technical University of Madrid (UPM), aims to develop an implantable device for treating glioblastomas, the deadliest brain tumour, using electric fields.

Question: First of all, Mónica, can you tell us a bit about what exactly the DITTCe project is, and why it is such an innovative project that seeks to integrate engineering, materials science, and medicine?

Answer: DITTCe is a project where several disciplines converge, making it especially unique, and I would say, magical. In cancer, we are addressing a complex issue that doctors have to deal with every day, especially this particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. The dynamic with the medical team and the work in hospitals has been very interesting because it has allowed us to approach a high-priority health issue from different perspectives.

Our research process cannot be disconnected from the end use; it is vital for us to understand the situation from the patient’s perspective, as well as from the medical intervention angle. Then, we translate these needs into a device that is viable, operational, and optimal.

Question: What is the role of IMDEA Materials within the framework of the project?

Answer: At IMDEA Materials, we contribute with what we do best: the development, characterization, and evaluation of new materials that can be used in biomedical devices. In this case, we are particularly focused on microelectrodes and high-performance flexible batteries that are, of course, compatible with the body.

It’s fascinating to be able to use techniques and materials that were previously used for industrial applications in new medical uses, further strengthening IMDEA Materials’ commitment to the field of materials for healthcare, which we embarked on a few years ago.

Read more (content in Spanish): En la lucha contra los tumores cerebrales más letales: El proyecto DITTCe se suma a la campaña del Día Mundial de la Investigación en Cáncer este domingo 24 de septiembre, continuando sus esfuerzos para combatir los glioblastomas cerebrales.

Question: To develop a device like the one proposed in this project, advances are required in various fields, from electronics to batteries, materials, biology, and so on. How do you coordinate all these elements to achieve the desired result?

Answer: In a project of this magnitude, many different elements are crucial. The first is multidisciplinarity; this project is a consortium where each activity is led by experts in the field.

Research of the medical component in adults is carried out by the University Hospital de La Princesa, while the Children’s University Hospital Niño de Jesús focuses on the treatment of paediatric gliomas. Researchers from the Carlos III Health Institute are supervising the trials in animal models. IMDEA Materials is in charge of the design of the biocompatible electrodes and the implanted batteries, while the development of the advanced electronics of the devices is the responsibility of the UPM and the Spanish company Insyte.

Following this, good communication is essential. Each sequential step requires feedback from different areas, and we naturally generate questions and strategies to build the project step by step. Finally, but most importantly, is the motivation to carry out a successful project that we know will have a positive impact on the lives of many people.

Question: Could you talk a bit about the progress the project has made in its first year so far?

Answer: Having almost completed its first year, the project has made progress in the development of the material we will use for the electrode and its biological validation. We have approached a possible prototype that we will be able to evaluate in the coming months with cell cultures (2D) and organoids (3D) through simulations and computational studies.

From a clinical perspective, we have identified other medical applications that use similar electrode and battery technology to inform our project. We are also fine-tuning in vivo systems to be able to evaluate working parameters and selected materials at a more advanced level, such as the animal model, in the coming year.

Question: In relation to the previous question, it’s true that with so many aspects involved, progress is never as fast as one might wish. To put this research into a realistic context, when can we expect to see this technology applied?

Answer: The development of medical technology involves a significant amount of time and financial effort. How long it will take is something that the results and the steps ahead will tell us. We must remember that the biomedical field is strict in terms of regulations, clinical validations at different levels, and then there are issues of protection, commercialization, and certifications.

We surely have a long way to go, but the good news is that it’s an active project with highly motivated individuals. This helps to achieve better results and progress more rapidly.

Question: Finally, technological advances are important, but ultimately, they are a means to an end, which is to provide better options for patients and improve their quality of life. Could you talk about the impact you expect to see from this project?

Answer: We are working in an area known as translational science, which, in a somewhat informal way, seeks to connect the patient’s bedside with the laboratory. That is, conducting science focused on solving real problems that reach those who need it, and that is tangible in a concrete application.

Science should be a tool to make this world a better place, and I believe that DITTCe is working in that direction. The overall project is subdivided into small tasks with a significant scientific background. We are developing new materials, new simulation methodologies, and, finally, the steps we take have a strong scientific foundation.

Thank you very much, Mónica!

Proyecto “Dispositivo implantable para el tratamiento de tumores cerebrales mediante campos eléctricos” (PLEC2022-009308) financiado por: