Research utilizes electric fields to target delivery of chemotherapy to tumors

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University (both NC, USA) have developed a novel technique to more accurately target tumors during chemotherapy. The technique, termed iontophoresis, reduces the risk of damage to healthy tissue and could lead to clinical treatments for patients. The study was reported in the February issue of Science Translational Medicine.

This technique uses an electric field to direct chemotherapeutic agents into the tumor. The electric field is created by a device that contains a reservoir of drugs, which is either implanted into the tumor or placed on the skin. Upon activation, the electric field produced by the device forces the drug into the tumor, overcoming the surrounding pressure that has adversely affected other local drug delivery strategies.

The new technology ensures that chemotherapeutic drugs are administered at high concentrations directly into the tumor, meaning cancer cells in the diseased area have increased exposure to the drugs. The researchers hope that this will help negate the negative side effects commonly seen in chemotherapy due to the systemic delivery of the treatment.

Trials of the device in mice demonstrated positive results. In mice with human inflammatory cancer, a combination of local iontophoretic chemotherapy and intravenous chemotherapy increased survival time when compared with either treatment singularly. Local iontophoretic chemotherapy plus radiation treatment was demonstrated to have an even greater efficacious effect. The new technique also demonstrated some efficacy in mice with human pancreatic tumors.

In mice already receiving IV chemotherapy, the addition of local iontophoretic chemotherapy caused an increase in drug concentration in the tumor but barely increased drug concentration in the blood plasma.

These findings indicate that iontophoretically-delivered chemotherapy could have potential in a clinical setting. The researchers suggest that local delivery techniques such as this could allow the use of more potent drug combinations at higher concentrations as the rest of the body is largely spared from exposure to high dosages.

“This may ultimately lead to a reduction in the morbidity and mortality rates commonly found in different types of cancer,” commented James Byrne, first author on the paper.

Source: Virginia Tech University press release