Chemotherapy? Just For The Tumor, Please

Head and neck cancer research in localized chemotherapy

(RxWiki News) Chemotherapy is effective for cancers that have spread out, but that's a double edged sword. You don't want the drugs harming cells in places without cancer, so it would be nice if you could direct it a little.

Using the physics of fluid dynamics, engineers specializing in biomedical applications have calculated new ways to use chemotherapy in a more targeted manner.

The idea is to make sure that sensitive organs, like the liver, are spared from the worst effects of chemotherapy, and direct the drugs to the areas with the highest amount of tumor.

"Ask your oncologist about optimizing chemotherapy to reduce side effects."

Engineers experimented with a wide range of devices, trying different nozzles and spray speeds in computerized modeling to see if they could improve current methods.

In the past few years, experimentation with direct application of drugs inside blood vessels have seen some practical use in busting clots for strokes and heart attacks.  The device sinks into the clot and sprays clot-busting drugs directly in and around the area.

Localized clot-busting therapy lowers the chances of bleeding problems, as the drug concentration is lowered to a tiny fraction as it mixes with blood from other areas of the body.

Researchers hope to use this basic principle with chemotherapy, as lowered concentration in other areas would lead to fewer negative side effects.

So far, researchers have concentrated on mapping the fluid dynamics of the head and neck, an important area for chemotherapy with a complicated blood supply.

The biomedical engineers refer to their new field as Computational Fluid Dynamics. Apart from calculating how blood flows, an important part of their work is calculating the appropriate dose of chemotherapy needed for each patient.

Since chemotherapy doses vary depending on how aggressive the cancer is and the literal volume of the person being treated, if the engineers are successful in pioneering localized chemotherapy, they will need to calculate each dose using a lot more variables.

Manosh Paul, PhD, the engineer leading the research team, said: “In inter-arterial infusion treatment, the chemotherapy dose is given to a specific artery feeding a tumour."

“Importantly, the knowledge about the chemical agent concentration in blood and the technique by which the tumours are infused are vital for a therapy success."

“Using computational fluid dynamics we investigate the effects of changes in various flow related and surgically relevant parameters to optimise the cancer dose locally at the cancer region.”

Research was published in the journal BioMedical Engineering OnLine. The study was funded by the University of Glasgow. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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Review Date: 
May 11, 2012