The hardest part of his job, says Joo Ha Hwang, M.D., Ph.D., is informing patients that they have pancreatic cancer.
Hwang, a leading researcher in focused ultrasound and gastroenterologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, is troubled by the lack of effective treatments for this deadly disease. “For decades, we’ve been treating pancreatic cancer and coming up with one new drug regimen after another. Yet, nothing has made a dent in improving patient survival," he notes.
Hwang is seeking a new option for his patients. "I want to be able to tell them that we have a promising therapy that is really going to make a difference in terms of curing their disease or at least making a significant improvement in their quality of life,” he adds. "That’s what drove me to investigate focused ultrasound to treat pancreatic cancer."
Initially, Hwang’s research explored use of the noninvasive technology in ablating pancreatic tumors. Now, he is studying its potential to enhance drug delivery.
"Recent evidence shows chemotherapeutic agents don’t work in pancreatic cancer because we’re not getting the drug actually to the tumor,” he explains. "Focused ultrasound is one method that potentially can really impact this disease by driving the drug into the tissue and enhancing the delivery of chemotherapeutic agents so that they can actually work against these tumors."
Hwang and his colleagues are now performing preclinical studies with promising results. If they succeed in demonstrating that focused ultrasound improves drug delivery to pancreatic tumors, they plan to initiate preliminary clinical studies. “If we can provide pancreatic cancer patients with a non-invasive, outpatient therapy that enhances their outcome, this will make an enormous impact on the field. I think that we will see that happen in the next one to two years,” he says.
"This could completely change the paradigm for treating patients with pancreatic cancer," he observes. “It’s very promising."
Written by Ellen C. McKenna