Scientists at UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute and Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (photo) have combined their nanotechnology expertise to create a new treatment that may solve some of the problems of using chemotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer. The study, which was published online on March 16, 2015 in an open-access article in ACS Nano, describes successful experiments to combine two drugs within a specially designed mesoporous silica nanoparticle that looks like a glass bubble. The drugs work together to shrink human pancreas tumors in mice as successfully as the current standard treatment, but at one twelfth the dosage. This lower dosage could reduce both the cost of treatment and the side effects that people suffer from the current method. The study was led by Dr. Huan Meng, Assistant Adjunct Professor of Medicine, and Dr. Andre Nel, Distinguished Professor of Medicine, both at the Jonsson Cancer Center. Pancreatic cancer, a devastating disease with a five-year survival rate of just 5 percent, is difficult to detect early and symptoms do not usually appear until the disease is advanced. As a result, many people are not diagnosed until their tumors are beyond the effective limits of surgery, leaving chemotherapy as the only viable treatment option. The chemotherapy drug most often used for pancreas cancer is gemcitabine, but its impact is often limited. Recent research has found that combining gemcitabine with another drug called paclitaxel can improve the overall treatment effect. In the current method, Abraxane — a nano complex containing paclitaxel — and gemcitabine are given separately, which works to a degree, but because the drugs may stay in the body for different lengths of time, the combined beneficial effect is not fully synchronized.
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