Delivering Chemotherapy Directly to Tumors

New grant explores precision drug delivery in NETs

The American Association of Cancer Researchers (AACR) has awarded a NETRF-funded research grant to a Texas researcher to explore image-guided drug delivery (IGDD). Ali Azhdarinia, PhD, University of Texas will explore the idea of using Ga-68 DOTATOC to treat neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) in the gastrointestinal tract and pancreas.

As the first exploration of this idea, Azhdarinia will start with preclinical experiments in laboratory animals. The imaging agent used to “light up” neuroendocrine tumors will be chemically linked with temozolomide, a chemotherapy drug already shown to have clinical efficacy. The imaging agent attaches to the somatostatin receptors of neuroendocrine tumor cells, thus targeting the drug specifically to the cancer cells but not to normal cells.

Azhdarinia will team up with Daniel Halperin, MD, from MD Anderson Cancer Center to explore the degree to which this image-guided delivery of chemotherapy increases damage to tumor cells and reduces damage to healthy cells in laboratory animals.

“Metastatic NETs often require systemic treatment whose efficacy may be offset by toxic side effects that adversely affect normal cells of the body,” said John Kanki, PhD, NETRF Director of Research. “The funded work by Dr. Azhdarinia explores tumor-specific drug delivery strategies to avoid these side effects while allowing higher, more effective doses that may also overcome drug resistance.”

The approach, given its integration with PET/CT imaging, may also offer researchers insight into the uptake of chemotherapy in the tumor and help to monitor response to treatment.

As a preliminary investigation of IGDD, this study explores logistical aspects of conjugating a chemotherapy drug with an imaging agent for early testing in the laboratory. If the concept shows promise, it would then undergo further laboratory testing to understand the benefits and harms of the approach before progressing into clinical trials in humans.

NETRF has collaborated with AACR on research grants since 2010. This collaboration helps improve awareness and exposure of NETs among the AACR’s membership of 25,000 cancer researchers and clinicians.