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Filtration device could extend lives for ovarian cancer patients

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Ovarian cancer treatment research

A device that filters free floating cancer cells from the body could mean a new treatment option for ovarian cancer.

The device provides a way to extend lives of patients with ovarian cancer while continuing other treatments. The machine that is used outside of the body lowers the chances that a patient will develop secondary tumors that can complicate cancer treatment.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are working with a medical device firm to develop the filtration device. The idea behind the therapy is to remove fluid from the patient's abdomen, then "capture" free-floating cancer cells using magnetic nanoparticles before the fluid is returned to the patient.

“Almost no one dies from primary ovarian cancer,” said John McDonald, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biology and chief research scientist of Atlanta’s Ovarian Cancer Institute. “You can remove the primary cancer, but the problem is metastasis. A good deal of the metastasis in ovarian cancer comes from cancer cells sloughing off into the abdominal cavity and spreading the disease that way.”

The system is being designed by McDonald and postdoctoral fellow Ken Scarberry – who is also CEO of startup medical device company called Sub-Micro. Removing cancer cells in the abdominal cavity might boost the immune system enough to keep ovarian cancer under control while reducing the number of cells in the body so other treatments used in conjunction would be more effective.

The filtration device was studied in mice and extended lifespan with just one treatment, by a third. Combined with other ovarian cancer treatments, the researchers expect even better results.

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“If you can reduce metastasis, you can improve the lifespan of the person with the disease and get a better chance of treating it effectively,” said McDonald. “One goal is to make cancer a chronic disease that can be effectively treated over an extended period of time. If we can’t cure it, perhaps we can help people to live with it.”

The nanoparticles selectively attach to cancer cells that build up in the abdominal cavity, or perineum of cancer patients. Treating the fluid, rather than using nanoparticles in the body would be less toxic.

The researchers say “What we are developing is akin to hemofiltration or peritoneal dialysis in which the patient could come into a clinic and be hooked up to the device a couple of times a week,” said Scarberry. “The treatment is not heavily invasive, so it could be repeated often.” It is much like kidney dialysis.

In mice that were injected with cancer cells, there was a 32 percent increased survival rate with the treatment. Two groups of mice were studied and received identical treatment, with the exception of using the nanoparticles.

The filtration device is not ready for use in humans, as much more research is needed to determine safety and what other treatments should be used in conjunction with the device. The findings are published in the January issue of the journal Nanomedicine and suggest a potential new treatment option for ovarian cancer patients.

Nanomedicine: doi 10.1016/j.nano.2009.11.003"