Novel Use of Hypoxia-Inducible Polymerizable Protein to Augment Chemotherapy for Pancreatic Cancer

Andrew Gdowski, Hamed Hayatshahi, Rafal Fudala, Rohan Joshi, Jin Liu, Jamboor K. Vishwanatha, Rohan Jeyarajah, Paul Guzik, Amalendu P. Ranjan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the most aggressive malignancies and is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Unfortunately, 80–85% of patients are diagnosed with unresectable, advanced stage tumors. These tumors are incurable and result in a median survival less than approximately six months and an overall 5-year survival rate of less than 7%. Whilst chemotherapy is a critical treatment, cure is not possible without surgical resection. The poor clinical outcomes in PDAC can be partially attributed to its dense desmoplastic stroma, taking up roughly 80% of the tumor mass. The stroma surrounding the tumor disrupts the normal architecture of pancreatic tissue leading to poor vascularization, high intratumoral pressure along with hypoxia and an acidic tumor microenvironment. This complicated microenvironment presents a significant challenge for drug delivery. The current manuscript discusses a novel approach to overcome many of these various obstacles. A complex of gemcitabine (GEM) and hemoglobin S (HbS) was formulated, which self-polymerizes under hypoxic and acidic conditions. When poly-merized, HbS has the potential to break the tumor stroma, decrease intratumoral pressure, and therefore improve the treatment efficacy of standard therapy. Intratumoral injection of HbS with a fluorescent small molecule surrogate for GEM into a pancreatic tumor xenograft resulted in improved dissemination of the small molecule throughout the pancreatic tumor. The self-polymerization of HbS + GEM was significantly more effective than either agent individually at decreasing tumor size in an in vivo PDAC mouse model. These findings would suggest a clinical benefit from delivering the complex of GEM and HbS via direct injection by endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). With such a treatment option, patients with locally advanced disease would have the potential to become surgical candidates, offering them a chance for cure.

Original languageEnglish
Article number128
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Gemcitabine
  • Hemoglobin S
  • Hypoxia
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Polymerization


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