A new treatment for cancers of poor prognosis, which has been used to successfully cure aggressive advanced cancers in mice, will shortly be offered to Cork clinical trial patients.
The potential breakthrough treatment involves a combination of the next-generation immunotherapy drugs which boost the immune system and electroporation therapy — where short bursts of high-intensity electrical pulses are delivered to the tumour to open pores in cells for more efficient entry of drugs.
Declan Soden, who has researched the impact of cancer on the immune system for years at the Cork Cancer Research Centre (CCRC), said they had shown that delivering a short burst of electricity to the tumour sparks “a robust immune engagement into the cancer”.
This is significant because tumours have the ability to switch off the patient’s immune system in the area around the cancer, making it difficult to treat. Using immunotherapy alone to try and boost the body’s immune response could have side- effects so severe that the patient could end up dying — “making the treatment worse than the disease”, said Dr Soden.
However, their work at the CCRC had helped them identify the mechanism by which the tumour turns off the immune system around the cancer and to develop a new treatment to overcome this. “We’ve been able to overturn the cancer’s invasion mechanism because of our improved understanding of how the cancer switches off the immune system locally,” he said.
Dr Soden said it had already proved effective in mice and they were hoping to shortly recruit 30 patients with late-stage cancer to take part in a clinical trial at Cork University Hospital.
Dr Soden will present the CCRC findings today at the seventh Southern Symposium on Foregut Cancers in University College Cork, where the focus is on pancreatic cancer.
Brian Bird, conference organiser, consultant medical oncologist at the Bon Secours Hospital, said the symposium will also provide a unique opportunity for pancreatic cancer patients to quiz world experts about the disease at a patients forum in the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, UCC, at 12pm today.
“It’s what makes it a very unique meeting, that patients get the opportunity to talk to world experts,” said Dr Bird.
“It’s often a learning curve, for us, the doctors, because you sometimes see the grief and anger in patients that you never saw through years of treating them. Most of them find the forum cathartic; others find it reassuring to meet others going through the type of treatment they’ve had themselves.”
The symposium, which continues tomorrow, was also a platform for doctors to discuss “tricky cases where, a lot of time, people may have some fresh ideas” and it helped doctors stay abreast of the most up-to-date treatments.
Dr Bird said while he had some patients who travelled abroad for “fancy treatment”, “99% of patients don’t need to go elsewhere, they are getting state-of-the-art treatment in Cork”.
More than 480 new cases of pancreatic cancer are diagnosed in Ireland each year. Most patients are diagnosed at late stage, and typically survival is less than a year.
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