Heat-enabled chemotherapy showing promise in studies

Research into heat-activated or -enabled chemotherapy is growing following promising studies, which demonstrate that the technique has potential when the cancerous organ can be heated in isolation.

Hyperthermia involves increasing the temperature of an organ or bodily region by a few degrees to, say, 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or as high as 200 degrees, explains The Wall Street Journal.

Drugs delivered in conjunction with hyperthermia could be dosed at levels up to 30 times higher than standard drugs, because they would be activated by the higher temperatures only upon reaching the targeted site--an example of localized drug delivery.

A European 51-patient study published in the World Journal of Urology was supportive of hyperthermia used in conjunction with chemotherapy among patients with a type of bladder cancer who did not respond to a standard immunotherapy medication.

A subsequent randomized study also had promising results, but a British study of 104 patients who received hyperthermia following the immunotherapy did not find it had a statistically significant effect, though the method did benefit some patients, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In the studies, the chemotherapy was delivered using standard ablation catheters that heats the bladder or the medication at temperatures around 110 degrees while the therapy enters the organ. Ablation catheters are commonly used to destroy tissue, but the drug delivery application is a novel use of the device.

Heated tumors seem to be more susceptible to uptake of chemotherapy because their tumor tissues are dilated. In addition, the heat itself weakens cells, thereby making them more vulnerable to drugs, researchers told the The Wall Street Journal.

"If you expose a body to fever in the febrile temp range (102-105 degrees), this tickles and provokes the immune response at almost every level that leads to enhanced protection," oncology professor Dr. Sharon Evans of Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, told The Wall Street Journal.

Duke Cancer Institute urology professor and hyperthermia researcher Dr. Brant Inman is studying novel drugs that are delivered to heated pig bladders and researching hyperthermia's application to melanoma, prostate cancer and breast cancer in mice and rats.

"If we can treat earlier with less toxicity, killing tumors before they get large, and trigger [greater] immune response, then we'll have something really interesting," Inman told The Wall Street Journal.

- read the story in The Wall Street Journal