Alumni News

Easing the painful experience of oesophageal cancers

Professor Sanjay Garg

Director, Centre for Pharmaceutical Innovation and Development (CPID)
University of South Australia
Professor Sanjay Garg

Professor Sanjay Garg and his team in the Centre for Pharmaceutical Innovation and Development (CPID) are developing new drug delivery technologies to improve the quality of life of terminally ill oesophageal cancer patients.

Oesophageal cancer has proven to be one of the more difficult cancers to treat successfully, largely due to the inability to discover the disease in its early stages. Many patients do not seek medical help until the cancer has progressed to a highly aggressive stage and the five year survival rate can be as low as 15-20%.

Typical oesophageal cancer treatment includes surgical removal of the tumour followed by chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy. However, in the majority of cases, these patients are palliative so the treatment options are aimed at maximising comfort for the months or years left.

As it is difficult to completely remove all of the cells of these aggressive cancers during surgery, an oesophageal stent is used to ensure the tube, which runs from the mouth to the stomach, stays open if the tumour regrows.

“A collaborating clinician recently said to me that one of our biggest blessings that we don’t realise until it is taken away is our ability to enjoy eating and drinking normally. This treatment is not designed to be a cure, but to make patients more comfortable in their final days so they can continue to eat and drink normally,” said Professor Garg.

“We have devised a system that we hope will optimise treatment. By coating the stent with a special polymeric film that can slowly release the anticancer drug locally, we expect this will be the best opportunity to target any left-over cancer cells and stop the tumour from regrowing and causing discomfort.”

Professor Garg’s team are now investigating specific blends of polymeric compounds as a potential coating for the stents. The polymer film will be loaded with the cancer drug and sprayed onto the stents in such a way that as they gradually biodegrade harmlessly within the oesophagus, the drug can be slowly released over a period of up to 90 days.

“We still have a lot of work to do as this is the first research to address this specific issue. We need to analyse what the best dose and treatment is, the very best polymer compound, and what drug release duration would be best – for example a quick release of 30 days or a slow controlled one of 90 days.”

Localising treatment for cancers is an important area of work.

“We need to find ways to make sure that anticancer drugs are not distributed throughout the body but targeted specifically to the areas where the cancer cells reside in order to reduce side effects from treatment.

“We also need to make sure that the quality of life of patients is maintained as much as possible. This is one of the biggest challenges for the scientific community in regards to current treatments.”

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