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Hoping to shrink the odds for pancreatic cancer patient

Posted on 5 months ago by Laurentina Kennedy The RFT Group 012302400

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Hoping to shrink the odds for pancreatic cancer patient

RCSI researcher targets the difficult-to-treat cancer with a gel to shrink tumours

Helena Kelly of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland: “Advances in medical device technology and imaging mean the feasibility of delivering treatments to very specific regions of the anatomy has increased significantly providing much greater scope for the use of hydrogels.”

Helena Kelly of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland: “Advances in medical device technology and imaging mean the feasibility of delivering treatments to very specific regions of the anatomy has increased significantly providing much greater scope for the use of hydrogels.”

 

Hoping to shrink the odds for pancreatic cancer patient

 Olive Keogh Last Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2018, 05:35

Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rate of any major cancer. It is typically aggressive and notoriously difficult to treat and the best chance for survival is surgery. However, not everyone with the disease is a suitable candidate for surgical intervention as pancreatic tumours can be large and can spread. Up to now the outlook for a patient with an inoperable tumour was bleak, but Helena Kelly of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) is hoping to tip the balance more favourably with a new approach to the treatment of the disease. “I am not claiming ‘a cure’, but I am hoping to improve outcomes by making it possible for more people to have the surgery. 

At present, only 20 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Ireland every year – roughly 325 – go on to have surgery,” she says. Kelly’s breakthrough is an innovative treatment platform that delivers drugs directly to the tumour to reduce its size. “ChemoGel is a unique type of hydrogel, referred to as heat responsive, and is liquid at room temperature and semi-solid at body temperature,” says Kelly who is a senior lecturer and principal investigator in the School of Pharmacy at the RCSI. “It can be loaded with a range of chemotherapy drugs and then delivered directly into the tumour using standard endoscopy procedures. After injection, it transitions to its gel state and forms a drug depot in the tumour that delivers a high local drug concentration over a sustained period of time to maximise the impact of the treatment but reduce the side effects. Pancreatic survival “There have been no significant improvements in pancreatic survival outcomes in the last 40 years,” Kelly adds. “Just think about that. All of the amazing developments in medicine and technology at that time have had no impact on this disease. One of the reasons – and there are many – clinical outcomes are so poor is partly due to the nature of the tumour itself. It is a very dense tissue and has a poor blood supply. This makes it very difficult for cancer drugs delivered intravenously to penetrate the tumour. It also means that very high doses have to be delivered systemically causing a lot of side effects but with little positive impact on the tumour. If we can make tumours smaller then there is a better chance a patient will become eligible for surgery and will live longer.” “ChemoGel is a unique type of hydrogel, referred to as heat responsive, and is liquid at room temperature and semi-solid at body temperature,” Helena Kelly says “ChemoGel is a unique type of hydrogel, referred to as heat responsive, and is liquid at room temperature and semi-solid at body temperature,” Helena Kelly says Kelly graduated with a pharmacy degree from Trinity College and followed this with a Ph.D. in drug delivery. 

She then spent eight years in the pharmaceutical industry across a range of areas including process development and scale up, clinical trial manufacture, regulation and project management. 

She has worked in the RCSI’s School of Pharmacy for the last 10 years and her specific interests include tissue engineering, biomaterials, pharmaceutics and drug delivery all with a view to designing smart therapies for complex health problems. Advances “My Ph.D. was in the area of thermoresponsive hydrogels and when I returned to academia this was the area of research I continued to focus on,” she says. “Advances in medical device technology and imaging mean the feasibility of delivering treatments to very specific regions of the anatomy has increased significantly providing much greater scope for the use of hydrogels. ‘Most of my research is looking at using different types of hydrogels in a range of clinical settings such as cancer, diabetes and cardiac applications. 

The ChemoGel project built on this research and with assistance from the Enterprise Ireland’s feasibility fund I was able to identify a lead clinical application. Then with a commercialisation grant, I was able to follow through with initial pre-clinical evaluation. The next step for Helena Kelly is to raise funding to begin clinical trials “Throughout the process, I have worked closely with Seona Rossi who has carried out much of the formulation development as part of her Ph.D. studies at the RCSI. The project has also received significant support from the RCSI office of research and innovation which is committed to driving breakthroughs in human healthcare and ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is in place to support researchers to do this.”