BYLINE: --Will Cushman, [email protected]

Newswise — Many pancreatic tumors are like malignant fortresses, surrounded by a dense matrix of collagen and other tissue that shields them from immune cells and immunotherapies that have been effective in treating other cancers. Employing bacteria to infiltrate that cancerous fortification and deliver these drugs could aid treatment for pancreatic cancer, according to newly published findings from a team of University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers. Here’s what to know:

Tumor collagen is a tough barrier: Pancreatic cancer is well known for its deadliness and has among the lowest five-year survival rates among common cancers. While there are several drivers behind the disease’s dismal prognosis, one that’s the focus of this study is the matrix surrounding many pancreatic tumors, which acts as an effective barrier against treatment.

A bacteria-based infiltration: Hu is an expert in engineering cells for use as potential therapeutics or delivery vehicles for drugs. For this study, published in April in the journal Med, Hu’s lab applied a bacterium that could both penetrate through the tough collagen barrier and deliver immunotherapeutic “nano-drugs.”

Approach shows promise in animal models: The UW–Madison team tested its E. coli-based delivery system in mouse models of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, or PDAC, the most common and lethal form of pancreatic cancer, which was the focus of the study.

While this therapeutic approach shows promise for treating pancreatic cancer and other malignancies with tough collagen barriers, Hu’s team is working on improving and simplifying it in animal models, with potential clinical trials still some time out.

This research was supported by the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center Research Collaborative and Pancreas Cancer Research Task Force, UWCCC Transdisciplinary Cancer Immunology-Immunotherapy Pilot Project, and the start-up package from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.