Health Care

DeSimone lab at UNC finds new way to attack pancreatic cancer

Joseph DeSimone, a chemistry professor at UNC-CH and NCSU poses in front of a photo of two micron PRINT particles which are part of nano technology developed by Liquidia, an RTP company.STAFF PHOTO BY CHUCK LIDDY/THE NEWS & OBSERVER
Joseph DeSimone, a chemistry professor at UNC-CH and NCSU poses in front of a photo of two micron PRINT particles which are part of nano technology developed by Liquidia, an RTP company.STAFF PHOTO BY CHUCK LIDDY/THE NEWS & OBSERVER 2008 News & Observer file photo

A team of researchers led by one of North Carolina’s most prolific inventors has created a new approach to attacking hard-to-reach tumors, including those found in the pancreas, which are notoriously difficult to treat.

Joseph DeSimone and a group in his lab at UNC-Chapel Hill have created a device that can be customized for each patient via 3-D printing, potentially right in the operating room. It uses electrical fields to push chemotherapy drugs directly to tumors and has the potential to dramatically increase the number of patients eligible for life-saving surgery.

It represents a fundamentally new treatment approach to pancreatic cancer, which has a 75 percent mortality rate within a year of diagnosis – a statistic that has not changed in more than 40 years.

The technique is the subject of a paper that appeared in the research journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.

Surgery to remove a tumor offers patients their best chance of curing pancreatic cancer, but often a diagnosis comes too late because the tumors tend to become intertwined with major organs and blood vessels, said DeSimone, who is Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry at UNC and William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at N.C. State University.

Another benefit is that by pushing the drug directly into the tumor, less collects elsewhere in the body, the study found. That means the new approach has the potential to reduce the sometimes harsh effects of chemotherapy.

In some cases, the device would be implanted. The reservoir in it that contains the chemotherapy drug could be printed at bedside or in the operating room to customize it to accommodate the location of the tumor and the differences in patients’ bodies.

The new method also has potential for treating certain other kinds of tumors.

So far, it has been used with success on animals, and after additional development work on the device, UNC expects to start clinical trials with human subjects next year.

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