New research laboratory employs biomedical engineering for precision cancer surgery

Surgery remains one of the pillars of cancer treatmentNow, thanks to the recruitment of a new scientist to Providence Cancer Institute, experts in biomedical engineering, immunology and surgical oncology are working collaboratively to improve outcomes for people with head, neck and other cancers. 

With recent advances in biomedical engineering technology, chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments can be administered directly to a tumor or surgical site.  

These local drug delivery systems have the potential to lessen the side effects associated with cancer therapies that spread throughout the body (systemic therapy). They may also improve the effectiveness of surgery and reduce cancer recurrence. 

In July, Di Wen, Ph.D., joined the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute, a division of Providence, to lead the newly created Biomedical Engineering Laboratory.  

Dr. Wen received his doctoral degree in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Nebraska. He attended the University of North Carolina and the University of California Los Angeles for postdoctoral training, where he pioneered a novel approach to cancer therapy by engineering fat cells and platelets for local drug delivery to enhance surgical effectiveness. 

In partnership with R. Bryan Bell, M.D., D.D.S., FACS, FRCS(Ed), medical director of the Providence Head and Neck Cancer Program and director of Surgical Oncology Research, and other Providence researchers, Dr. Wen will develop biomaterials and cellular therapies for local administration of immune-stimulating treatments. 

They are also investigating methods of engineering cells to deliver drug payloads of various cancer therapies directly to the surgical site and tumor. Iother cases, therapy may be tailored based upon pre-treatment profiling  

The researchers hope people who receive the locally administered therapies will have better outcomes compared to traditional treatment methods.  

"We are already working towards translating this approach from the lab bench to the patient bedside,” said Dr. Bell. “Dr. Wen has the expertise to lead this effort, and he has hit the ground running."

The Biomedical Engineering Laboratory is supported, in part, by a generous donation from Steve and Cindy Harder to advance head and neck cancer research at Providence.  

Learn more about Dr. Wen and the Providence Head and Neck Program. 

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