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New Multi-Layer Hybrid Nano-Carrier for Multi-Drug Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

At the "Symposium on the Application of Genetic Testing in Individualized Diagnosis and Treatment of Tumor" recently held in Tianjin, the research team led by Professor Hao Jihui of the Pancreas Oncology Department of Tianjin Medical University Cancer Hospital announced that they had achieved a major breakthrough in the field of nano-carrier drugs for pancreatic cancer.

The new multi-layer hybrid nano-carrier designed by the research team achieves layered carrying of three active pharmaceutical agents, filling the technology gap for the application of a nano-carrier as part of multi-drug treatment of pancreatic cancer. The nano-carrier also greatly improves tumor targeting and the effectiveness of the drug while reducing its toxicities. The research findings were recently published in the prestigious academic journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Pancreatic cancer is the most devastating cancer in clinical terms and is regarded as "the king of cancers" as the five-year survival rate is below 5%. Surgery is the only possible cure for pancreatic cancer at present. But owing to its insidious early symptoms, only 20% patients with pancreatic cancer are considered surgically resectable at the time of diagnosis while most patients are limited to receiving palliative chemotherapy due to the likelihood of distant metastasis and complications related to localized tumor growth while the side effects of chemotherapy drugs are directly related to the long-term survival of the patients.

Professor Hao explained that nanotechnology-based drugs were gaining more and more attention in terms of a treatment option for malignant cancers. However, there were no nano-carrier drugs for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. For this reason the research team at Tianjin Medical University Cancer Hospital led by Professor Hao cooperated with the research team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences National Center for Nanoscience and Technology led by Nie Guangjun to jointly design and synthesize a new multi-layer phospholipids--polymer hybrid nano-carrier, and, by doing so, achieved layered carrying of three active pharmaceutical agents of FOLFIRINOX chemo (5-fluorouracil,oxaliplatin and irinotecan), filling the aforementioned technology gap.

Professor Hao further added: "When it comes to clinical work, many patients suffering from pancreatic cancer are faced with the reality that there is no medicine or treatment to choose from". The FOLFIRINOX plan, which was put forward in the research findings published in the authoritative medical journal New England Journal of Medicine in 2011, increased the median survival time for patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer to 11.1 months, something never before achieved with this type of cancer (the control group's median was 6.8 months) and increased the objective response rate from 9% to 38%. However, when the plan was moved into clinical practice, many patients had serious adverse reactions, such as severe febrile neutropenia and diarrhea. In particular, approximately one-third of the patients who accepted this plan had severe fatigue which proved to be a substantial detriment to their quality of life. "A powerful set of negatives that prevented doctors from actually applying it in clinical practice."

To optimize the FOLFIRINOX plan, Professor Hao asked his research team to design and synthesize a new multi-layer phospholipids--polymer hybrid nano-carrier, which, in turn, achieved the layered carrying of three active pharmaceutical agents. This nano-carrier significantly increases the half-life period of the medicine circulating in the patient's body. At the same time, the passive targeting is concentrated on the tumor and identifies the integrin receptor which is highly expressed in pancreatic cancer cells, improving the tumor targeting tenfold compared with the control group. More importantly, the improvement of the tumor targeting of the medicine significantly reduces the damage to normal tissues.

"Multi-drug therapy is a basic principle in tumor treatment. Nano-drugs in the past only provided an improvement to the medicine while this new design of a nano-carrier broadens the application of nanotechnology in multi-drug chemotherapy." Professor Hao said that within the present set of treatment options for pancreatic cancer, FOLFIRINOX was the most promising form of chemotherapy. The innovative nano-carrier technology reduced the toxicity and increased the effects of this therapy, solving a major impediment in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. The next step would be to further study the scaled synthesis and biological effect of this nano-drug in order to move the application of this nano-drug to the clinical stage at an early date and significantly improve the quality of life for a wider group of patients suffering from pancreatic cancer.

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