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Tear Down This Wall

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Researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center may have found a way to make chemotherapy drugs more effective against pancreatic cancer, by breaking down the protective barrier the cancer cells form around themselves, reports Voice of America's Art Chimes. Pancreatic cancer has a high mortality rate, and the disease is hard to treat in part because the cancer cells build a collagen barrier around themselves, similar to scar tissue, Chimes says. This isolates the tumor by exerting "pressure on the blood vessels that supply the tumor, collapsing many of them and restricting not just the flow of blood but also of chemotherapy drugs," Chimes adds. So the Hutch researchers, who recently published their work in Cancer Cell, sought to get around this mechanism by administering an enzyme called PEGPH20 — which opens collapsed blood vessels — along with a standard chemotherapy drug to mice with pancreatic cancer. In every animal they tested, the tumors shrank or stopped growing, and overall survival increased by 70 percent, Chimes says. Though it's still early days, and the treatment has yet to be tested on humans, the researchers are optimistic, and add that it may also help reduce the side effect patients are subjected to as doctors might be able to use less powerful drugs to treat the tumors.

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