MIT researchers recently engineered a flexible polymer implant
that can directly release chemotherapy drugs to pancreatic cancer’s home base. The device is small and inserts easily via a catheter, but the biggest advantage is its ability to localize anticancer drugs to the pancreas, a feat that’s difficult to achieve with traditional methods of treatment.
Pancreatic cancer has one of the worst mortality rates of all cancer types, largely bcause more than 90 percent of pancreatic cancer cases are diagnosed at the metastatic stage. While surgery to remove the diseased tissue is the most effective treatment against pancreatic cancer, doctors can only operate in about 15% of the time. Most patients are treated with intravenous chemotherapy with low success because the pancreas lies so deep in the abdomen with few blood vessels to ferry the drug to the targeted site. Consequently, once diagnosed, only one in four patients survive past the one-year mark.
Researchers from MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital knew the key to effective chemotherapy treatment is in localizing the drug to the pancreas. To that end, they created a thin, flexible polymer called PLGA that can attach to the pancreas and release a concentrated dose of drugs directly to the cancer.
In experiments with mouse models of pancreatic cancer, the implant loaded paclitaxel – an anticancer drug – yielded much better outcome than traditional injections of the same drug. Specifically, they found that mice with the implant showed a decline in tumor growth, and some even had tumor shrinkage. The concentration of paclitaxel was five times higher in mice with the implant as compared to those with the injections, which led to more cancer tissue death that could be removed surgically.
"It's clear there is huge potential for a device that can localize treatment at the disease site," said Laura Indolfi, a postdoc in MIT and first author of the study. "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."
The implanted film is only loaded with chemotherapy drugs on the side that attaches to the diseased organ. As such, the film not only acted as a physical barrier to help prevent metastasis, but it also reduced unnecessary drug toxicity to nearby organs.
"The greatest benefit of this device is the ability to implant it with minimally invasive procedures so we can give a tool to oncologists and surgeons to reach tumors that otherwise would be difficult to reach," said Indolfi. The team estimated that for the pancreatic cancer experiment, the implant was 12 times more effective than traditional injection.
In the next phase, the team will prepare the device for use in human clinical trials. And though they will focus first on pancreatic cancer, the team sees broad application of their device to many other types of cancers and diseases. They also are planning to improve on the film itself, making it last longer in the body, and imbuing it with more anticancer properties.
Additional sources: EurekAlert!
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