(KINGSVILLE, TX) — Research at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy has uncovered a way to combine chemotherapeutic drugs with pain relievers so that pancreatic cancer patients can experience simultaneous treatment and suppression of painful symptoms from the disease.
Dai Lu, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, is leading a study focused on targeting a special G-protein coupled receptor that drug molecules can selectively activate to induce cancer cell death without affecting normal pancreatic cells. When given to mice with pancreatic tumors, the drug molecules prevented tumor growth and suppressed the spread of cancer to healthy organs. In addition to its cancer-fighting properties, this class of compounds generates painkillers comparable to the effects of morphine.
Disabling pain, malnutrition and jaundice are the most common symptoms in patients with pancreatic cancer, making pain management one of the most important and difficult aspects of palliative care for inoperable forms of the disease. Approximately 90 percent of patients ultimately develop severe or intractable pain that quickly leads to deterioration of the quality of life and performance status.
“There are no indications that we cannot manage pancreatic cancer as we have done with other types of cancer such as colon and breast cancer,” Lu said. “There are just more challenges because pancreatic cancer is a highly invasive malignancy and the metastatic cancer cells are very resistant to currently available chemotherapies.”
Lu’s research, in collaboration with other scientists, has had promising results in the testing stage. Within the next few years, the study will enter the drug development stage pending additional grant support from state and federal resources.