UT students behind breakthrough to minimize side effects of chemo

Students behind latest technology which will deliver how chemo is delivered to cancer patients. (KXAN Photo)
Students behind latest technology which will deliver how chemo is delivered to cancer patients. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A major breakthrough that could help cancer patients getting chemotherapy is being studied at the University of Texas at Austin.

Researchers with the Cockrell School of Engineering have found a way which would help minimize the side effects after chemo.

“Current treatments they get inside of cells, but only in a very ineffective and inefficient way. You have to really put a lot of doses outside of the cell in order for enough to get inside the cell,” Avinash Gadok, a doctoral student said.

The graduate student developed a new way to deliver chemotherapy directly to the tumor cells. It’s called “Connectosomes,” a new type of nanoparticle.

The “Connectosomes” are equipped with what’s called gap junctions, a pathway that allows for the movement of molecules between two cells.

According to Gadok, the gap junctions allow the “Connectosomes” to create a direct channel to deliver drugs to each cell more effectively.

“Our technology is able to kill the drug using a much lower dosage of the drug so that can potentially help the patient by allowing them to be treated with a lower dose of drug,” explained Gadok.

Gadok worked closely with the college of pharmacy to get a better understanding of the drugs used for chemo.

Cancer patients like Holly Kyle say it would make a big difference. “Anything they can do to progress how chemo is administered, to minimize the side effects — especially the harder chemo that have to go through up front it — is going to be an advantage for everybody,” Kyle said.

The mother gets chemo weekly. She was diagnosed with breast cancer just a year ago.  She still has about five rounds to go. “You have to get through it and gut through it, because the side effects can be so bad that you don’t think you’ll be able to make it through the day,” said Kyle “It’s an emotional journey and it’s scary.”

Kyle, who works in sales at KXAN, is still trying to navigate her way through some of the side effects which include weakness, headaches, nausea and hair loss.

The researchers also found that having a direct route to a cell could even provide more effective treatment for later-stage tumors — ones that have metastasized — and that often can’t be treated by the chemo delivery now.

“It will greatly improve the quality of life of a patient,” Silvia Ferrati, a postdoctoral fellow at the College of Pharmacy said. “This is what we are passionate about. Our work making impact on the life of patients, so in the end if you see something that’s working… it’s great.”

This new technology can be eventually used to treat any type of cancer. Researchers say it took four years just to get to this point. Right now they are applying for a patent for the technology.

Testing with animals is next. If all goes well, human clinical trials are still years away. Best case scenario: FDA approval would still likely be at least a decade away.

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