Novel procedure opens door to new and future treatment for pancreatic cancer

Published on March 17, 2010 at 3:32 AM · No Comments

Pancreatic cancer-known as the most fatal cancer with no known effective treatment-requires a radical new therapy. A promising approach may come in the form of tiny gold nanoparticles-loaded with a therapeutic agent to kill cancer-in a novel procedure called "nanoembolization," said researchers at the Society of Interventional Radiology's 35th Annual Scientific Meeting in Tampa, Fla.

"As current treatments for pancreatic cancer offer minimal benefit, entirely new approaches are needed. We've developed a radically different approach that might be able to overcome some of the obstacles that have hampered previous therapies for pancreatic cancer," said Reed A. Omary, M.D., M.S., an interventional radiologist and professor of radiology and biomedical engineering and vice chair of research in the radiology department at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. Traditional attempts to treat this particularly horrible cancer include some combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery. However, none of these methods results in effective treatment.

Instead, Northwestern researchers constructed extremely tiny particles made out of gold-termed nanoparticles-with cancer-killing agents attached to them. These nanoparticles, which measure only 13 nanometers in diameter, are so small that 8,000 of them could be strung together and still occupy less than the width of a single human hair. In animal studies, the research team used an interventional radiology technique to inject the cancer-killing nanoparticles directly into the tumor. The investigators call this novel delivery technique "nanoembolization." Omary said, "Using nanoembolization, we dramatically increased the concentration of the nanoparticles in the tumor by 55 times over traditional methods that use a vein (such as at the elbow). That's a massive improvement-and a promising discovery for this dreadful disease."

The pancreas is the organ located behind the stomach. It produces juices that help break down food and hormones that help control blood sugar levels. Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is the most common type of pancreatic cancer and carries the worst prognosis of any cancer, even when diagnosed early. This aggressive cancer typically has a six-month survival rate at diagnosis. In 2009, it was estimated that more than 42,000 individuals, typically over the age of 60, were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, making it the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Because it is often found late and it spreads quickly, pancreatic cancer can be hard to treat.

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