New Model for Pancreatic Cancer Research Developed at Virginia Tech


Key Points

  • Researchers at Virginia Tech have developed the first large-animal model of human pancreatic cancer.
  • The team successfully engrafted the model with human pancreatic tumors and then treated the tumors with histotripsy.

Successful In Situ Targeting of Pancreatic Tumors in a Novel Orthotopic Porcine Model Using Histotripsy

Researchers at Virginia Tech have developed the first large-animal model of human pancreatic cancer. In the past, the lack of a large animal preclinical model for pancreatic cancer has prevented research from advancing, especially when developing biomedical devices and drug or biological therapies.

The team, which was led by Eli Vlaisavljevich, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), and Irving “Coy” Allen, PhD, MBA, MS, assistant head for research support and professor of inflammatory disease in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at the VA-MD College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, successfully developed the model with genetically modified, immunocompromised pigs, engrafted them with human pancreatic tumors, and then treated the tumors with histotripsy.

Histotripsy is a nonthermal form of focused ultrasound that is used for ablation. It mechanically destroys tissue noninvasively without the use of heat or radiation.

Regarding the histotripsy treatment, the paper notes, “Treatment with histotripsy resulted in partial ablation in vivo and reduction in collagen content in both in vivo tumor in pig pancreas and ex vivo patient tumor.” The team also identified some challenges with using ultrasound guidance when treating the pancreas with histotripsy, some of which were published in a parallel article of targeting the healthy pancreas with histotripsy.

“These studies demonstrate the feasibility of targeting pancreatic tumors using histotripsy in a large animal model that has many features and physiological obstacles similar to what we expect to observe in human patients,” said Dr. Allen. “More work is certainly needed to prove that this can be done safely and effectively, but these studies are an exciting first step toward clinical translation.”

Beyond histotripsy, the new porcine model can be used for testing a myriad of other medical devices, drugs, and biological treatments such as gene therapies or immunotherapies.

This study was funded by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. The investigators noted that the Focused Ultrasound Foundation help fund some of the initial research that led to those grants.

See Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology