An implantable device allows large doses of highly toxic drugs to be delivered directly to pancreatic tumors while reducing exposure to the toxic side effects in the rest of the body. These findings, based on research done in mice, were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.1

“We use the device to hit the primary tumor hard,” said senior author Jen Jen Yeh, MD, who is a member of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and also an associate professor in the department of pharmacology and the UNC School of Medicine department of surgery in Chapel Hill. “It’s an exciting approach because there is so little systemic toxicity that it leaves room to administer additional drugs against cancer cells that may have spread in the rest of the body.”

This study used FOLFIRNOX, a combination chemotherapy regimen that is promising for pancreatic cancer. Although the regimen is now a first-line treatment, not all patients can receive it because of its toxicity when delivered through the bloodstream.

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The implantable device, which uses electronic fields to deliver chemotherapy directly into tumors, was tested in mice. The mice had xenograft tumors that were derived from patients with pancreatic cancer. After 7 weeks of treatment with FOLFIRNOX, tumor growth was significantly less in the mice who received FOLFIRNOX via the device than in mice who received the regimen via IV delivery. The implantable iontophoretic device delivered much higher concentrations of drug to the tumor compared with IV delivery.

“We are striving to get our device into clinical trials within the next several years,” said Joseph M. DeSimone, PhD, Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry at the UNC College of Arts and Sciences and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at NC State University.

“The prospect of halting tumor growth with our device, and potentially shrinking tumors, could help more patients qualify for surgery.”

Surgically removing a tumor is currently the best chance of cure for patients with pancreatic cancer, but only 15% of patients have operable tumors. The mortality rate for pancreatic cancer is 75% within 1 year of diagnosis, and that statistic has remained constant for more than 40 years.

“The beauty of this device is that all of the drug delivery is focused locally, with low delivery to the rest of the body,” said James D. Byrne, PhD, a medical student at the UNC School of Medicine, and first author of the report. “If this works in humans, we hope the device can be used as a plug-and-play approach to delivering the latest, most promising drug regimens for patients who have a dire need for new and better treatments.”


1. Byrne JD, Jajja MR, Schorzman AN, et al. Iontophoretic device delivery for the localized treatment of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113(8):2200-2205.