Project Spotlight: OncoBioelectrx

Despite the use of targeted therapies, lung cancer causes 25% of all annual cancer deaths, with a 5-year survival rate of only 18%. OncoBioelectrx is a drug-free, implantable immunotherapy neuromodulation device designed to stimulate anti-inflammatory pathways to achieve inflammatory homeostasis that can simultaneously repress inflammation and boost antitumor immunity. Charles Horn, PhD, is a neuroscientist in the Department of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and is one of the lead researchers of OncoBioelectrx. Dr. Horn recently shared his journey to the Alliance and gave us a behind the scenes look at his team’s project.

What led you to the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance?

Our project was born out of discussions with Dr. Gary Fedder, from Carnegie Mellon University and Dr. Gutian Xiao, of University of Pittsburgh, on neuromodulation for the treatment of inflammation-associated diseases and cancers in particular. Those conversations expanded to include Pitt’s Dr. Lee Fisher and CMU’s Dr. Chris Bettinger. We teamed up with SciVelo and the Alliance since they supported our bold approach to develop a unique device to treat cancer.


Walk us through your project.

Cancer is largely controlled by a cascade of inflammatory and immune processes, and inflammatory responses can greatly diminish the therapeutic effect of chemotherapy. Anti-inflammatory co-therapy is commonly prescribed by oncologists to control the inflammation in cancer patients, but current first-line treatments have serious side-effects. Further, activation of inflammatory cells can promote both tumor growth and resistance to cancer drugs. Because of these limitations, we decided to take a neurostimulation approach using an implantable device to precisely control anti-inflammatory pathways to suppress tumor-promoting cells and inflammation. We’re hopeful that this technology will enable personalized, effective cancer therapy.

How do you and your project partners’ strengths complement each other?

The expertise of our project team members is highly complementary. Dr. Fedder has expertise in designing micro-electrode technology and Dr. Bettinger develops specialized bio-compatible materials. Dr. Xiao is an expert in cancer biology. Dr. Fisher has experience developing implantable devices to stimulate nerves, and I specialize in preclinical testing and small animal neurosurgery. Together we form a perfect team to take on this problem and have really enjoyed coming together from different universities and programs to create OncoBioelectrx.


When you look at Pittsburgh as a region, what role do you see the PHDA playing? What do you foresee the future of innovation looking like here?

The role of the PHDA is critical for advancing commercially focused projects led by diverse teams of investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Innovative medical devices targeting the peripheral nervous system are rapidly advancing towards clinical use, in large part, because of the high level of multi-disciplinary expertise in Pittsburgh. Our entire team is looking forward to playing a role in Pittsburgh’s recent transformation of becoming a hub for healthcare and technology.