Inspired by the foam on top of lattes, as well as gummy bears and Pop Rocks candies, researchers at the University of Iowa are creating new, biocompatible materials that may improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation for treating cancers.
The new materials are known as gas-entrapping materials, or GeMs, which can be formulated as foams, solids, or hydrogels, and are designed to carry high concentrations of a variety of therapeutic gases directly into tissues, including tumors.
In a new study, published Feb. 2 in the journal Advanced Science, researchers led by James Byrne, MD, PhD, and Jianling Bi, PhD, at the UI, used GeMs to deliver high levels of oxygen directly into tumors. The study showed that this improved the effectiveness of standard chemotherapy and radiation treatments in mouse models of prostate cancer and a type of sarcoma.
In addition to Byrne, Bi and their colleagues at the UI, the study was a multi-institutional effort involving researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Harvard Medical School.
“We’ve known for a long time that if you increase the amount of oxygen within a tumor you can make it more responsive to radiation, certain chemotherapies, and even potentially immunotherapies,” says Byrne, UI assistant professor of radiation oncology and a member of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI. “However, the challenge has been how to deliver an effective dose of oxygen in a safe, controlled fashion.”
The new study shows that GeMs can significantly increase oxygen levels within solid tumors and render the cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation or chemotherapy. The increased oxygen levels also appeared to improve immune reactivity, which is key to generating a response to immunotherapy.