Hruban discusses challenges in pathology at INBT symposium

Dr. Ralph Hruban of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine at the INBT annual NanoBio Symposium. Photo by Mary Spiro

Pancreatic cancer is well known as one of the most malicious types of cancers. Seventy-five percent of people lose their battle with pancreatic cancer within a year of diagnosis and only 5 percent survive beyond five years.

“There is opportunity for nanotechnology to have an impact,” said Dr. Hruban as he highlighted the many challenges in improving detection and treatment of pancreatic cancers during his talk at the annual Nano-Bio Symposium hosted by Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology on May 4.

Pathologists have been able to determine many histological changes in cancerous pancreatic ducts and also many of the related genetic changes. The challenge is to translate these discoveries in pathology into novel diagnostic tools.

“Early detection is the best hope in fighting cancer,” said Hruban. Nanotechnology could allow for visualization of genetic changes and changes in protein expression in pancreatic lesions which would help in earlier detection.

Treatment of these pancreatic lesions could be better handled with more robust imaging and staining techniques. Thousands of CAT scans are taken at Johns Hopkins hospital every year and doctors began screening all of these CAT scans performed at the hospital to identify pancreatic cysts.

Even with the cysts identified, there is no way to tell if the cyst is benign or malignant without surgery. Hruban gave as an example a female patient that was pregnant who was identified with a pancreatic cyst that turned out to be benign. For months after, the patient had a variety of health problems due to the surgery.

Hruban gave an old folk rhyme about coral snakes as an analogy, “Red on yellow, kill a fellow. Red on black, friend of Jack.” Nanotechnology could provide a means of visualizing which cysts are harmful and prevent patients from having unnecessary surgeries.

Story by Gregg Duncan, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering with interests in biomaterials and drug delivery.

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