Pancreatic cancer research enhanced through new access to advanced nanotechnology

Australian cancer researchers can now view never-before-seen images of how cancers respond to therapy, thanks to new access to an advanced imaging nanotechnology, based in the US.

Dr Paul Timpson of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, in collaboration with a team from the UK, are using the Fluroescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) technologies to map areas within pancreatic cancers, pin-pointing where drugs need to be delivered to significantly improve patient survival.

Dr Timpson has said, “Until now, we have been limited to studying tumour signalling in two dimensions.  Nanotechnology opens up a portal into living tissue that allows us to watch cancers spreading, and to determine which parts of a tumour we should be targeting with drugs.”

Pancreatic cancer is one of the hardest cancers to treat because the pancreas is extremely dense with collagen and has poor blood vessel networks for delivering targeted drugs.

However this technology allowed the team to see – at sub cellular resolution – areas of the tumour that the drugs weren’t working. They then used a combination of therapies to weaken the cancer and make it easier to target the drugs to the correct location.

“The trick is to break down the structure just enough to get the drug in, but not so much that you damage the organ itself,” Dr Timpson’s colleague, Professor Kurt Anderson said.

“These new FRET technologies help us gauge what is just enough and not too much.”

“These are very exciting discoveries – we now have spatial and temporal information about cancer behaviour that we’ve never had before, as well as the nanotechnology to monitor and improve drug delivery in hard to reach tumour regions.”