Iontophoresis May Be the Future of Cancer Treatment
A new method which makes it possible to infuse cancer drugs directly into tumors – one which does not rely on perfusion via the bloodstream – was recently introduced. This delivery device is providing new hope for patients with pancreatic, breast and other solid cancers, promising the opportunity for better results and longer life.
The new method is known as “iontophoresis” which utilizes an electrical field conveyed via electrodes. The electrical field delivers chemotherapy drugs directly into the tumor, impeding their growth, and sometimes successfully shrinking them. A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill explains that the electrodes may be internally implanted, as is needed in the case of pancreatic tumors; or applied externally to the skin for other more accessible tumors. Details regarding the iontophoretic device and how the UNC researchers tested it was documented in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The device was used on human pancreatic tumors grafted into mice and dogs. Pancreatic cancer has been the main object of this research due to the difficulty in treating it with conventional methods; which results in a statistically high death rate. Although relatively rare (46,000 cases reported in 2014) over 3/4 of those diagnosed do not live more than 12 months, making this cancer the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. The difficulty in treating this particular form of cancer is due to the fact that by the time the cancer is detected, it is generally too advanced to treat effectively. Surgery is the most effective option for curing pancreatic cancer, but often the tumor has entangled itself throughout major organs and blood vessels by the time it is diagnosed, making surgery impossible or dangerous.
Chemotherapy is also limited in its effectiveness, as pancreatic cancer cells are encased in tissue that restricts the perfusion of drugs that could otherwise shrink the tumor or arrest its growth. Without a naturally abundant blood supply, pancreatic cancer cells also do not respond well to the delivery of drugs via the bloodstream. The iontophoretic device delivered chemotherapy drugs into the tumors much more effectively than the incumbent intravenous (IV) method and was also successful in delivering increased concentrations of the medication without the level of toxicity to the rest of the body being affected.
Co-author Jen Jen Yeh, associate professor of surgery and pharmacology in the School of Medicine at UNC, says: “Once this goes to clinical trials, it could shift the paradigm for pancreatic cancer treatments – or any other solid tumors where standard IV chemotherapy drugs are hard to get to.”
Funds for the study came from the University Cancer Research Fund and the National Institutes of Health.