Edible chemotherapy: Are cows the Key?

DENVER, Colo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - We all know someone who's had chemotherapy. Many people who have gone through it can tell you getting those IV drips in the hospital is one of the worst parts.

What if you could take those powerful chemotherapy drugs right in your own home? That's just one of the benefits of an innovative therapy coming from an unlikely source.

Ana Garcia Gustafson has mastered the art of optimism. That's not easy when you have pancreatic cancer. 

Gustafson said: "I'm giving it all I can give! Kickin' it in the derriere." 

To keep hope alive, she takes a mix of potent chemo drugs. Treatment days are six-hour infusions. 

"That's pretty tough for an old lady," Gustafson said.

Some chemo drugs can be given orally, but many must be given by IV.

Tom Anchordoquy, a pharmaceutical scientist from the University of Colorado's Skaggs School of Pharmacy, said, "Some drugs just cannot survive the condition in the stomach." 

Anchordoquy has found an unusual way to change that. 

"It'd make things a lot easier and cheaper," he said.

He's putting powerful drugs into raw milk. Milk particles can survive harsh stomach conditions and make it to the bloodstream, right where cancer drugs need to be. 

Anchordoquy explained: "This particle goes in, and it protects it. It's like you'd be surrounded by a shield." 

That means patients could take powerful drugs that normally have to be given by IV orally at home.

Anchordoquy said, "By putting them in these particles, we can hopefully minimize their toxicity a little bit and make them a little more amenable to human use." 

His biggest supporter? Gustafson.

"What a great mind to think outside the box!" Gustafson stated.

With hope intact, Gustafson's learning to live a new normal.

Gustafson shared: "We'll take it one day at a time. I want to live. I want to live." 

Scientists say getting treated at home is a big plus for patients undergoing chemotherapy, but researchers are even more excited about what this technique could mean for future treatments. Very powerful drugs that cannot be used in humans right now could soon be a real option just by attaching them to milk particles.  

BACKGROUND: Chemotherapy is the use of any drug to treat any disease. However, most people associate the word chemotherapy with drugs used for cancer treatment. While radiation therapy and surgery can damage, kill or remove cancer cells in certain areas, chemotherapy works throughout the whole body. Therefore, chemo can kill cells that have spread far away from the original tumor. The goal of chemotherapy treatment for a patient is to control if not decrease or cure, the cancerous site. An oncologist will decide what drug or sometimes a combination of drugs will be administered. This is on a case-by-case basis, as no two cases of cancer are identical. Often, combination chemotherapy is given because the different drugs will work in different ways and together, can kill more cancer cells. This may also help lower the chances that a patient's cancer may become resistant to any single one of the chemo drugs given.

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INTRAVENOUS CHEMOTHERAPY: IV chemo treatments consist of injecting the chemotherapy medicine directly into the patient's vein, instantly entering the bloodstream. It is the most common form of chemo, and typically it is performed in a series of sessions over the course of several weeks. Each session may range from several minutes to a few hours. IV chemo provides versatile and flexible treatment dosages and may be delivered directly into the vein as a single shot, via a pump or catheter, or through a drip bag that dilutes the medication. It is typically inserted into a large vein, usually in the hand, arm or chest. IV chemo medicine starts working more quickly than other forms of chemotherapy, because of its delivery method directly into the bloodstream. The most commonly reported side effects of chemo are nausea and fatigue, and typically anti-nausea medications are given prior to any chemotherapy treatment. Specific risks of IV chemotherapy include the chance of the medicine leaking out of the catheter, which can cause blistering or burning on the skin. 

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NEW RESEARCH: While some chemotherapy is given orally, some drugs cannot survive the conditions in the stomach. They are either degraded in the stomach or, oftentimes, they cannot pass. The ability to absorb the drug isn't very high, and this all depends on the chemical properties of the molecule. Extensive research is now being conducted using particles from raw milk, attempting to encapsulate chemotherapy drugs in them. This creates a barrier or shield that could protect the drug from the acidic enzymes in the stomach, allowing the drug to move from the digestive tract into the blood. If successful, the drug would then circulate in the bloodstream and treat the cancer patient in this way. Right now, researchers are focused on one particular drug, Ironotecan.

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