Pancreatic and liver cancers often come with a poor prognosis due in part to limitations in the effectiveness of chemotherapy in targeting the affected organ.
A paper by OMRF scientist Rheal Towner, Ph.D., looks at promising new therapies for these specific cancers that could potentially target the tumor directly. This method would increase the effectiveness of the drugs where they are needed and decrease the negative effects they can have on surrounding healthy tissue. The findings were published in the scientific journal Nanomedicine.
These particular therapeutic agents also feature built-in components researchers can use to visualize them with MRI or ultrasound in addition to their ability to elicit therapy.
“The new direction in therapy is to try to use imaging methods to assess if a therapeutic agent is reaching its target,” said Towner, director of OMRF’s Advanced Magnetic Resonance Center. “We then evaluate how effective the therapeutic agent is in reducing tumors or preventing them from coming back.”
Towner said different tumor targets exist in both pancreatic and liver cancers, but the current standard is to treat them systemically with chemotherapy drugs. The big challenge lies in designing diagnostic and therapeutic agents that can travel to the specific tumor site and then, once there, also have it release the drug to the target area over time.
“A problem with drugs administered intravenously is that they clear out of the body very quickly,” said Towner. “Pharmaceutical companies like drugs with a quick clearance time because some can cause systemic toxicity. But our hope is that the target tissue will retain some of the medication so it can have an effect.”
Also, said Towner, by sending the drug directly to the target tissue and triggering a slow release of the therapeutic agent, only the tumor should be affected. This could increase the effectiveness of the drug against the tumor and decrease the occurrence of side effects.
“That’s where the majority of the research is heading right now,” said Towner. “They’ve even coined a new term—theranostic agents—to describe the combination of therapeutics and diagnostics found in this delivery system,” said Towner. “It’s a very promising new treatment direction.”