Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer.
It’s rare, but it’s responsible for the death of Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze, among others. One reason it’s so hard to treat? The pancreas, where the cancer starts, sits behind the stomach near a bunch of other important organs. And that location makes it easier for the cancer to spread.
“The ability of the tumour to grow into those organs is the reason why pancreatic cancer is one of the most painful tumour types,” PanTher Therapeutics CEO and TED fellow Laura Indolfi said in a February 2016 TED talk.
The pancreas is hard to reach in surgery, she said, so for the most part chemotherapy can be one of the only treatments. That’s also a tricky approach, she said, because when you inject the chemotherapy into the bloodstream it’s still difficult to reach the pancreatic tumour with very few blood cells.
Her solution? With the help of MIT and the Massachusetts General Hospital, she came up with a new way to deliver the chemotherapy drugs so they go directly to the pancreas. They’re small enough to fit into a catheter, so doctors can place it directly on the tumour without an invasive surgery.
We are basically parachuting you on top of your destination, avoiding your having to drive all around the highway,” she said. “We have embedded the drug into devices that look like this one.”
The device is still in pre-clinical trials, which means it hasn’t made its way into humans yet. But because it will be using a drug that’s already used to treat pancreatic cancer (called paclitaxel), Indolfi told Fast Company in March that she hopes the clinical trial process will only take a few years, making it available to patients in about five years.
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