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$2.7 Million NIH Grant Supports University of North Carolina and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Collaboration in Pancreatic Cancer Research

Investigators examine adding form of radiation to nanoparticle treatment to enhance effect
Wed, 05/26/2021 - 08:00

New Brunswick, N.J., May 26, 2021 – In the world of cancer therapies, nanoparticles hold great promise for delivering more effective and safer cancer treatment than the standard small molecule drugs that are commonly used today.

William Zamboni, PharmD, PhD (photo center), an expert in the pharmacology of nanoparticles at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy, Sha Chang, PhD (photo right), director of medical physics research at UNC, and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Director Steven K. Libutti, MD, FACS (photo left), whose work involves understanding the tumor microenvironment, are hoping to fight pancreatic cancer using the combination of a novel type of radiation and nanoparticles. The work is supported by a $2,792,913 grant (1R01CA247652-01A1) from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute.

“The promise of nanoparticle anticancer drugs remains largely unfulfilled due to relatively low tumor delivery, in which only 5 to 10 percent of these nanoparticle agents in the plasma are actually distributed into solid tumors,” shares Dr. Zamboni. Because of this, Zamboni notes there is a strong need to discover methods that can capitalize on the promise of nanoparticle anticancer drugs by significantly and safely enhancing tumor delivery, especially in pancreatic cancer that has major inherent barriers to tumor delivery that are associated with high resistance and low response. 

In this project, investigators will evaluate if induction minibeam radiation therapy, in contrast to conventional broad beam radiation therapy, increases tumor perfusion (the passage of blood or other fluid like cancer treatments, through blood vessels), and the tumor delivery and efficacy of nanoparticles in pancreatic cancer tumor models.

“The collaborative work we’ve done with breast cancer laboratory models using this approach will be translated to our work with pancreatic cancer where barriers to nanoparticle delivery are extensive. Surgical resection is the only curative option for pancreatic cancer – but only 15 percent of patients have resectable disease. A combination of minibeam radiation therapy with the nanoparticle regimen would afford an ideal pre-surgical treatment to promote better patient outcomes. We are hopeful this groundbreaking work will lead to human trials,” says Dr. Libutti, who is also senior vice president of oncology services for RWJBarnabas Health.

“A key issue for all patients with solid tumors is to get a higher delivery of the anticancer agents to the tumor versus normal tissues to improve efficacy and reduce toxicity. Our proposed studies are very exciting as these methods may also be used to enhance the tumor delivery of nanoparticles and other chemotherapeutic and biologic anticancer agents. Ultimately, if the anticancer agents do not reach the tumor and achieve therapeutic exposures they will not work,” adds Zamboni, who is also part of the Molecular Therapeutics Program at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and is the director of the UNC Advanced Translational Pharmacology and Analytical Chemistry (ATPAC) Lab.

Other collaborators on the project include Edmund Lattime, PhD and Ziqiang Yuan, MD from Rutgers Cancer Institute.  The grant period runs through March 2026.


About Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
As New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute, together with RWJBarnabas Health, offers the most advanced cancer treatment options including bone marrow transplantation, proton therapy, CAR T-cell therapy and complex surgical procedures.  Along with clinical trials and novel therapeutics such as precision medicine and immunotherapy – many of which are not widely available – patients have access to these cutting-edge therapies at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital in Newark, as well as through RWJBarnabas Health facilities. To make a tax-deductible gift to support Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, call 848-932-8013 or visit


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