Pancreatic cancer occurs as cells in the pancreas (located behind the stomach) start to multiply out of control and form a mass. The cancer has a very low survival rate. The type of cancer studied in the new trials is pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a common type of tumor.
The novel treatment requires minimal surgical invasion, with most of the treatment being based on the use of ultrasound waves (sound waves at a very high frequency). The new technique works by taking tiny oxygen-filled microbubbles and fixing a non-active drug attached to the surface. The microbubbles are administered by injection. Once inside the body, ultrasound waves are used to burst the bubbles. This releases the drug, along with oxygen.
The sound waves then proceed to activate the drug, using a process called sonodynamic therapy. Here ultrasound or light can be used to enhance the cytotoxic effects of drugs. In the right location, the drug proceeds to attack the tumor cells. The release of oxygen, in conjunction with the drug, is thought to aid the effectiveness of the anti-cancer medication. It should be noted that some scientists are skeptical about the effectiveness of sonodynamic therapy.
The studies so far have been conducted using mice. The results appear to be encouraging, showing a five-fold reduction in tumor size. A reduction in tumor sizes means a surgical procedure to remove the tumor stands a greater chance of success.
The studies were conducted between Ulster University’s biomedical sciences research institute and the University of Oxford. Speaking with Pharma File, one of the lead researchers, Professor John Callan stated: “Because we can control exactly where the sound waves go, we can selectively target the tumour and spare healthy tissue making this a highly targeted therapy with reduced side-effects. This really is a groundbreaking development and one of the most promising advances in pancreatic cancer research for decades.”
The next phase is to test out the technique, in a controlled way, on people. The method has yet to be described in a peer-reviewed journal.
In related news, saffron, or rather an extract termed crocetinic acid, may have anti-cancer properties, according to laboratory studies using pancreatic cancer cells.