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Nanomedicine—Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

March 13, 2018

by: Janet Aslin, Bridges for Peace

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The word “nano” is a suffix which means “one billionth part” of whatever word it precedes. The result is something that can only be seen under a microscope. Today researchers are developing nanotechnology—the engineering of tiny machines—that can be used in the medical field, thus we arrive at the term “nanomedicine.”

Israeli researchers at Tel Aviv University have made a promising discovery that may have a dramatic effect on survival rates from pancreatic cancer, an aggressive disease that currently has a very low survival rate. Part of the problem arises from the lack of early symptoms, leading to its discovery only when it has spread beyond the pancreas itself.

The researchers have been studying pancreatic cancer patients who have survived the onslaught of the disease to see if they could detect a common denominator between patients in this group. “We thought that if we could understand how some people live several years with this most aggressive disease, we might be able to develop a new therapeutic strategy,” said lead researcher Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, chair of physiology and pharmacology at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine (Israel21c).

The research group discovered high levels of a known oncogene, a gene which has the potential to cause cancer, and low levels of miR-34a, a tumor suppressant.

The next step in the process was the development of a nanoparticle, which researchers are describing as a sort of “taxi,” to deliver “passengers” directly to the tumor. This delivery method is an improvement that will allow a cocktail of medication to be delivered simultaneously to the precise site of the tumor. When delivered to mice suffering from pancreatic cancer, these passengers brought the levels of the oncogene and miR-34a into balance, suppressing the tumor and extending survival rates. Theoretically, the effect would be the same in humans.

“The study may serve as a basis for the development of an effective cocktail of drugs for this deadly disease and other cancers,” Tel-Aviv University said.

Photo Credit: kentoh/shutterstock.com

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