September 5, 2013

UAMS Researcher Awarded $150,000 Grant for Pancreatic Cancer Drug Treatment Improvement

Wolf Heberlein, M.D., received a two-year grant to conduct research on improving the treatment of drug delivery for pancreatic cancer.

Sept. 5, 2013 | Wolf E. Heberlein, M.D., an assistant professor of radiology in the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine, received a two-year $150,000 Research Scholar Grant from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Research and Education (R&E) Foundation.

Heberlein’s research is focused on improving the treatment of drug delivery for pancreatic cancer. The goal is to overcome the current surgical and drug barriers for treating pancreatic cancer with a minimally invasive, image-guided approach using electric probes.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and one of the main challenges is drug delivery. With regular methods, the chemotherapy would go into the patient’s bloodstream but rarely make it into the cancer because the tumor creates an environment that shields it from drugs entering the cells.

Heberlein will use the Irreversible Electroporation (IRE), a technique known as “NanoKnife,” that uses very short but high-voltage impulses to selectively facilitate drug penetration. Better drug penetration and high-voltage impulses should kill the tumor cells more reliably while reducing side effects. Heberlein chose this area of research due to its challenges and its potential of immediate benefit for patients.

“Dr. Heberlein’s project will investigate a highly innovative and potentially effective way to treat a disease that at present is almost universally fatal,” said Hedvig Hricak, M.D., Ph.D., member of the R&E Foundation Board of Trustees and past president of the RSNA. “It exemplifies the kind of creative, clinically relevant research that the R&E Foundation was designed to support.”

Heberlein said if the treatment is successful it can lead to improvements in patient care that also can be used in other types of cancers.

The grant proposal was developed under the mentorship of Michael Borrelli, Ph.D., professor of radiology and biophysics in the UAMS College of Medicine and associate director of the Arkansas Nanomedicine Center. Peter Crooks, Ph.D., chair of the UAMS College of Pharmacy Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, also will serve as Heberlein’s mentor.