Noninvasive Surgery and a New Drug to Stop Pancreatic Tumors

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Will immunotherapy make a minimally invasive surgical technique more effective for patients with locally advanced pancreatic cancer?

In a clinical trial, researchers are treating stage III pancreatic cancer patients with irreversible electroporation (IRE), followed by immunotherapy.

IRE Explained

IRE removes body tissue using high-energy pulses of electricity. The electrical pulses create permanent pores in the membranes of the cells of the tissue. This causes the internal contents of the cells to leak out, leading to the death of the cells. A person undergoing this treatment has a general anesthetic and electrode needles are inserted around the tumor. Electrical pulses then move between the needles for a specific amount of time. If the technique is needed to treat cancer in more than one location, the needles are moved, until all areas indicated have undergone IRE treatment.

There are a number of advantages to IRE. Because it is not a heat-based technique, it does not cause heat-related tissue damage and death. Additionally, IRE affects only certain body tissues, minimizing the damage to surrounding veins, ducts, and nerves, and makes it easier to surgically remove tumors that involve those tissues.

Adding Immunotherapy

Once participants have recovered from the IRE, they will receive the drug nivolumab (brand name Opdivo). One of the ways cancer cells evade the immune system is by producing proteins that tell the T cells of the immune system not to attack the tumor. Nivolumab is an immune checkpoint blockade drug and works by reactivating T cells to attack the tumor.

All participants will receive the IRE and nivolumab combination. Researchers are looking at how well participants tolerate the two treatments and whether the combination is effective. Patients will have regular CT scans to measure the progress of the pancreatic cancer.

We encourage you to consult your physicians for clinical trials that may be right for you. The website ClinicalTrials.gov provides more details about this trial as well as many others. You can visit the Clinical Trial Finder for a listing of all active pancreatic cancer clinical trials.