Study finds ultrasound contrast agents can improve delivery of chemotherapy drugs

Ultrasound sonoporation can improve the delivery of chemotherapy drugs in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer thanks to the presence of gaseous microbubbles in commercially available contrast agents, a study presented at the International Contrast Ultrasound Society conference in Chicago suggests.

Among 10 patients with inoperable cases of the disease, tumors were either reduced size or grew at a slower rate following ultrasound "sonoporation," or a temporary opening and closing of cell membranes that enables delivery and absorption of drugs. Two of the 10 patients are still alive a year after their last treatment cycle, according to a release, which says that the average life expectancy after diagnosis with metastatic pancreatic cancer is 3 to 6 months, with three-fourths of patients dying within one year of diagnosis.

"Our early findings suggested that commercially-available ultrasound microbubbles, combined with a standard chemotherapy drug, might prolong survival in pancreatic cancer patients," said Dr. Odd Helge Gilja of Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, in a statement. "The patients treated with ultrasound sonoporation were able to undergo significantly more treatment cycles than those receiving standard chemotherapy. Additional studies are planned to confirm and potentially extend the results."

In the study, the standard chemotherapy drug gemcitabine (marketed as Gemzar by Eli Lilly) was given to the participants via infusion, followed by commercially available microbubble contrast agents. A customized but commercially available ultrasound scanner was used to identify the microbubbles near the tumor and induce sonoporation.

The three contrast agents used are manufactured by Lantheus Medical Imaging, GE Healthcare ($GE) and Lumason to enhance cardiac images produced via echocardiograms. They are not approved by the FDA for drug delivery purposes.

"If further studies confirm the Bergen findings, ultrasound microbubbles could prove to be an innovative platform option for delivery of drugs and genes to treat other cancers and a wide variety of medical abnormalities throughout the body," said Dr. Steven Feinstein, co-president of the International Contrast Ultrasound Society and a professor of medicine at Rush University in Chicago, in a statement.

- read the release