A young Illawarra cancer researcher will head to Germany later this year to share her groundbreaking work on a world stage.
PhD student Samantha Wade is developing implants the size of a grain of rice, which can be packed with chemotherapy drugs and injected directly to tumours in pancreatic cancer patients.
After taking out first place in the Australian Falling Walls Lab competition, the IHMRI researcher will join around 100 other young researchers at the finals in Berlin on November 8.
Ms Wade said pancreatic cancer remained one of the most difficult cancers to treat, with patients on average having less than five per cent chance of survival, five years after diagnosis.
“Pancreatic cancer is the ninth most common cancer and it has a very high mortality rate,” she said.
“That’s because there’s either no early stage symptoms, or the symptoms are ambiguous like backache or indigestion.
“So it’s usually diagnosed at a very advanced stage by which time the only potential way to cure it – by surgical removal of the tumour – is no longer an option for around 80 per cent of patients as it’s spread too far and wrapped around arteries.”
The amount of chemotherapy required to shrink tumours is often intolerable to patients, so Ms Wade – along with her supervisor Dr Kara Vine-Perrow – started looking at a new drug-delivery system.
What they’ve come up with is a biodegradable implant loaded with chemotherapy drugs that can be inserted into the tumour – to kill it from the inside.
“We want to shrink the tumour away from the arteries so a surgeon can then remove it,” Ms Wade said.
“So we’ve developed an implant the size of a TicTac or grain of rice made from FDA-approved polymers that can be inserted in a non-surgical way using an endoscopy method.
“It’s designed to minimise the side effects of chemotherapy as the drug releases within the tumour, not the rest of the body.”
Having developed the prototype, researchers are about to embark on animal trials.
Ms Wade said by using clinically approved materials and procedures, as well as chemotherapy drugs already used for pancreatic cancer, researchers hope to speed up the process to human trials.
“With further development, we envision that these chemotherapy implants will improve the quality of life and overall survival of patients with pancreatic cancer,” she said.