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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Delivering Chemotherapy In A Gel May Fight Breast Cancer And Help To Reduce Breast Deformity

Gel could act as an alternative to radiation therapy and a post-surgery tissue filler

PITTSBURGH, April 24, 2006 — Women who undergo surgery for breast cancer followed by radiation therapy often experience breast deformities that can only be corrected through reconstructive surgery. Researchers at the Magee-Womens Research Institute, in collaboration with bioengineers at Carnegie Mellon University, have developed a polymer-based therapy for breast cancer that could serve as an artificial tissue filler after surgery and a clinically effective therapy. Their findings, based on studies with mice, will be presented at 10:15 a.m., Tuesday, April 25 at the World Congress on Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, April 24 to 27, at the Westin Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

“Although radiation therapy is the standard treatment for breast cancer following surgery, it is expensive, time consuming and increases the cosmetic deformity caused by surgery,” said Howard D. Edington, M.D., associate professor of surgery and surgical oncology at the University of Pittsburgh and faculty member at McGowan. “We sought to develop a possible alternative to radiation therapy that would not only release chemotherapy slowly to kill the cancerous cells left behind after surgery but that also would fill in the dimples and sometimes quite significant indentations that are common after breast surgery and radiation.”

To test their idea, the researchers encapsulated a common breast cancer chemotherapy drug, doxorubicin, in microspheres, or beads, and then mixed them with a gelatin made of a polymer substance. Mice with breast cancer tumors were treated by inserting the gel under the skin next to the mammary gland. The researchers found that they could successfully control the delivery of chemotherapy over a period of 30 days and that the tumors were completely eradicated compared to a control group of mice that were implanted with the gel insert without chemotherapy.

“Through further research and testing, our goal is to develop this into a clinical treatment for women undergoing breast cancer surgery,” said Dr. Edington who also is chief of surgery at Magee-Womens Hospital. “This treatment may help decrease the occurrences of breast deformity. With more studies under our belt, we believe this approach could eventually represent an alternative to breast radiation after surgery.”

According to Dr. Edington, clinical trials on women with breast cancer will follow additional laboratory studies. A paper detailing these results will be published in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research.

Co-authors of the study include Alicia J. DeFail, Kacey Marra, Ph.D., Frank Cartieri, Nithya Rajendran and Wen-Chi C. Lee, all with University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University. The study is funded by a grant from the United States Department of Defense.

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