Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have now developed a small, implantable device that delivers chemotherapy drugs directly to pancreatic tumours.
In a study of mice, they found that this approach was up to 12 times more effective than giving chemotherapy drugs by intravenous injection, which is how most pancreatic cancer patients are currently treated.
“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’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and the MGH Cancer Center, who is one of the study’s lead authors.
“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.”
During the tests, the researchers compared two groups of mice carrying transplanted human pancreatic tumors.
One group received the drug-delivery implant loaded with the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel, and the other received systemic injections of the same drug for four weeks, which mimics the treatment human patients usually receive.
In mice with the drug-delivery implant, tumour growth slowed, and in some cases tumours shrank. The researchers also found that after four weeks, the concentration of paclitaxel in the tumors of mice with the implanted device was five times greater than in mice that received injections.
“This combination of local, timed, and controlled release, coupled with the judicious use of critical compounds, could address the vital problems that pancreatic cancer has provided as obstacles to pharmacological therapy,” said a member of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science and senior author, Elazer Edelman.
The researchers are now preparing to design a clinical trial for human patients.
While they began this project with a focus on pancreatic cancer, they expect that this approach could also be useful in treating other tumors that are difficult to reach, such as tumors of the gastrointestinal tract.
The researchers hope that by getting drugs directly to the tumor site treatment for difficult to reach cancers will improve, and they are already plotting ways to reach other types of cancer using the same process.
“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.