Building a Better Mousetrap
It’s often difficult to target pancreatic cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue – but a new therapy concept not only makes this possible, but also enhances the potential effectiveness of adjuvant treatments
Michael Schubert |
It’s a two-part process. First, tiny, oxygen-filled microbubbles with an attached inactive chemical agent are delivered to the tumor tissues by injection. Second, the sensitized tumor is exposed to low-intensity ultrasound waves, breaking up the bubbles and activating the attached drug. This serves more than one purpose – not only is the drug delivered directly to the tumor without damaging healthy tissue along the way, but the oxygen itself also assists with treatment, improving the function of therapies like radiation that require oxygen to work.
Ulster University’s Norbrook Chair of Pharmaceutical Science, John Callan, explained, “Because we can control exactly where the sound waves go, we can selectively target the tumor and spare healthy tissue making this a highly targeted therapy with reduced side effects,” (1).
The researchers have named this technique “sonodynamic therapy” (SDT) and are excited by its potential, in particular given that their initial testing has shown a five-fold reduction in tumor size on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). SDT is not the first of its kind – similar techniques, like photodynamic therapy, exist – but it has advantages over other established treatments because ultrasound waves are capable of much deeper tissue penetration than light (2). It’s a uniquely beneficial approach for pancreatic cancer because of the disease’s characteristic low blood supply and large tumor size at diagnosis; increasing the tumor’s oxygen content can make radiotherapy and some chemotherapies more effective, while successful shrinking of the tumor can make surgery an option for larger population of patients.
Ultimately, the researchers hope to make pancreatic cancer a treatable disease, even in patients who have more advanced, or less accessible, tumors.
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- Ulster University, “Ulster University scientists reveal breakthrough in fight against pancreatic cancer”, (2015). Available at: bit.ly/210pGfj. Accessed December 7, 2015.
- AP McHale et al., “Sonodynamic therapy: concept, mechanism and application to cancer treatment”, Adv Exp Med Biol, 880, 429–450 (2016). PMID: 26486350.