A small and fully implantable device may be able to deliver chemotherapy medication directly to pancreatic tumors in new groundbreaking research.

In a mice study, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that their method had an effectiveness rate of up to 12 times more than intravenously injecting chemo drugs, which is how most patients receive treatment at present.

Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths, partly because drugs have a hard time reaching the organ situated deep within one’s abdomen. Pancreatic tumors also have few blood vessels and are typically surrounded by a thick and fibrous coating, making it hard for drugs to penetrate.

The team claimed that their device can finally localize therapy at the exact site of the disease through a minimally invasive procedure.

“You can implant our device to achieve a localized drug release to control tumor progression and potentially shrink [the tumor] to a size where a surgeon can remove it,” explains study lead author Laura Indolfi.

The researchers used a flexible polymer film made from polymer PLGA, used widely for drug delivery purposes. This thin, flexible film can be turned into a narrow tube and then inserted via a catheter, making for easy surgical implanting.

Due to its flexibility, the film adapts to the shape and size of the tumor and delivers the drug embedded into it in a time-release manner. Side effects on neighboring organs are minimized as the drug is secreted only from the side getting in contact with the tumor.

In their study, the team gave a group of mice an implant filled with the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel, while injecting the same medication on another group.

In the first group, there was slow tumor growth and even shrinking in some cases, as well as increased amount of dead cancer cells to be surgically removed. The film also acted as a barrier to surrounding organs, reducing metastasis or spread of cancer cells.

Mice with the implantable device also emerged with five times more concentration of the chemo drug than the injection-group mice. Fewer blood vessels in pancreatic tumors also translated to decreased chances of the drug spreading to nearby organs and potentially affecting healthy tissue.

The film could also serve as a stent coating, which reopens blocked bile ducts often suffered by pancreatic cancer patients. The drug-releasing film could hinder cancer cells from reaching the duct and blocking it once again.

The researchers, now gearing up for a human clinical trial and have formed the company PanTher Therapeutics to commercially develop it, add that the device could also potentially treat other difficult-to-reach tumors such as GI tract tumors.

The findings were published in the journal Biomaterials.

With a five-year survival rate of less than 6 percent, pancreatic cancer remains one of the biggest health concerns in the U.S., with over 48,000 diagnosed with the malignant condition in 2015 alone.

A study back in February, however, showed that this cancer is actually four separate diseases with their own required diagnoses and therapies. Researchers identified four genetic errors leading to the growth of pancreatic tumors, namely squamous type, pancreatic progenitor, immunogenic, and aberrantly differentiated endocrine exocrine.

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