In the basement of the Jewish General Hospital, a small room formerly dedicated to radiation oncology now houses an imposing machine nicknamed the PolarTrak. From 2023, patients will be testing an unprecedented cancer therapy here.
Posted at 12:00 p.m
This new research laboratory was inaugurated at the end of June by the Jewish General Hospital and the Quebec company Starpax Biopharma. The concept ? Bacteria with drugs attached to their surface are injected directly into the tumor. These small organisms are guided through their volume by magnetic fields in order to destroy them.
The first planned human clinical trials will focus on six types of cancer, namely pancreatic, prostate, head and neck, rectum, vulva and breast recurrence.
Make room for bacteria
The bacterium called Bn1-S is at the heart of this new technology. This organism, developed thanks to more than 800 mutations in the laboratory, is sensitive to magnetic fields, which allows its trajectory to be controlled with millimeter precision.
The bacteria are injected by endoscopy through the mouth, through the rectum, or by injection through the skin: a procedure that takes about ten minutes. During the injection, the patient is positioned in the PolarTrack so that the tumor is in the convergence point of the magnetic fields.
The magnetic fields then travel through the tumor and disperse the bacteria throughout its volume. The drug, which is on the back of the bacteria, is gradually released into the tumor. It therefore does not circulate in the blood system. Since toxins do not spread throughout the body, side effects caused by traditional treatments are greatly reduced.
lack of oxygen
The bacteria, which don’t need blood vessels to move, can invade the hypoxic areas of the tumor, where oxygen levels are low. This ability is an undeniable advantage in overcoming cancer.
This is because cancerous tumors have lower levels of oxygen compared to normal tissue. In this environment, cancer cells multiply rapidly, consuming almost all of the oxygen around them to create a barrier called the hypoxic zone.
This environment is favorable for them as they are better able to withstand drugs, standard treatments and immune system attacks.
The blood vessels don’t get to these hypoxic areas, so no matter how much you invent the best drug in the world, it doesn’t get there.
Michel Gareau, President and Founder of Starpax Biopharma
However, Starpax bacteria manage to naturally invade these hypoxic areas because the oxygen content is the same as that of their culture medium.
After 60 minutes, the bacteria die because the human body temperature is too high to survive. But the drugs that were on their surface continue their attempt to destroy the cancer cells.
begin of the study
So far, the technology has been tested in preclinical studies on animals such as monkeys, mice, dogs and pigs. “We’ve had a 100% remission rate with no side effects,” said Mr. Gareau, who is excited to begin clinical trials. “We don’t expect failure,” he says.
The Department of Business and Innovation has committed up to $7 million to set up the PolarTrak space.
“This new space at the Jewish General Hospital will allow innovation thanks to cutting-edge treatments and will have a direct impact on the dynamism of research in Quebec,” said Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister for Economy and Innovation and Minister responsible for regional economic development, at his inauguration.
Quebec innovations against cancer
Other researchers are actively working to revolutionize cancer treatment and early detection. The press presents some current projects.
A bra that saves lives
A University of Sherbrooke professor and researcher, Elijah Van Houten, wants to develop a simple and practical way to screen for breast cancer at home. His team is working on developing a bra that can detect small breast tumors. He uses cutting-edge technology to build a prototype bra that can detect changes in breast tissue in the event of a tumor. Unlike a mammogram, the bra would be painless and wearable. This technology could also help detect breast cancer recurrences so they can be detected and treated earlier.
Towards a cure for lymphoma
Tarik Möröy, a researcher at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM), and his team discovered that a specific enzyme is necessary for the development and progression of lymphoma, a cancer that affects a type of white blood cell. These experiments showed that if the DDX3 gene is turned off, a mouse that develops lymphoma will not get sick later in life or develop the disease. The team in Möröy’s laboratory now wants to test drugs to reduce the dosage of this enzyme and thus the serious side effects of lymphoma treatment.
The incidence rate of melanoma – one of the most serious forms of skin cancer – is increasing rapidly worldwide, but detecting and treating it in its early stages requires invasive and inaccurate methods. Jinyang Liang, a researcher at the National Institute for Scientific Research, and his team are developing a platform to diagnose and treat melanoma at an early stage. Their approach combines nanomaterials, microtechnology and ultrafast imaging to determine the type of lesion based on heat exchange on the skin.
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