Cancer cure hope as new injection method targets tumours at source

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The side-effects of cancer treatments could be reduced and cure rates improved by using a new injection targeting the areas effected by the disease, Scottish researchers have claimed.

Injecting drugs into the arteries of cancer patients, rather than veins, could be more effective in reaching head and neck cancer tumours, a study found.

Engineers and scientists at the University of Glasgow and NHS Lothian said the approach, if successful in potential human trials next year, could also be applied to other cancers.

Usually, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are administered through a “drip” in the arm, spreading the chemotherapy drugs throughout the patient’s body, including the cancer cells.

But chemotherapy is rarely recommended as a sole treatment for head and neck cancer because of its toxicity and very low probability of cure. The researchers of the computational fluid dynamics (cfd) group in Glasgow University’s School of Engineering, have been working to develop a new way of using intra-arterial delivery.

This would concentrate chemotherapy drugs in the area around the tumour, with lower doses for the organs vulnerable to toxicity.

It is hoped this method would result in higher cure rates and fewer side-effects.

Dr Manosh Paul, who led the flow-modelling research team, applied fluid dynamics techniques to model the distribution and concentration of chemotherapy drugs around a head and neck tumour.

He said: “Something injected into the vein goes to the heart, then to the cancer. But when injected into the artery, it goes to the cancer first. Our goal is to prove this is better.

“There are some sub-arteries you could block during treatment to help focus the chemotherapy. The computer model is working.”

Oral/head and neck cancer is in the top ten cancers worldwide, with major risk factors being tobacco and alcohol consumption.

The researchers are not yet ready to propose clinical trials, which are at least a year away.

This work runs in parallel with lab studies looking at cancer cells to determine the dose needed for each patient. The computer model then prescribes the ideal delivery method to achieve each patient’s dose.

Duncan F Campbell, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, said: “Chemotherapy is ideally given at a high dose, but results in significant toxicity, for example neutropaenia/immuno-suppression from chemotherapy risks fatal pneumonia or renal failure.

“The ideal dose for each patient is not known, so best-guess doses are used and toxicity monitored, but some patients cannot tolerate this preferred dose.

“We will have to show that extra effort is ‘worth the bother’ in clinical time and overheads before it will become mainstream.”