A unique partnership between Tim Long of the Department of Chemistry and a University of Virginia oncologist could result in a solution to reduce discomfort during cancer treatment for women.
Long and Tim Showalter, a radiation oncologist at UVA’s Cancer Center, together developed and are testing a gel that could be used during radiation treatment for cervical cancer. The idea: Rather than pack the cervix with gauze — an action so painful and uncomfortable that some women have to have anesthesia — during radiation treatment of the cancerous tissue, doctors can instead insert a soft gel that isolates the tumor. And when the procedure is finished, adding water to the gel will break it down. No gauze needed.
Showalter, who uses the current procedure at least five times for each patient, said, “If we can do something to reduce the amount of discomfort during the procedure, it’s a really big deal.”
Work began about four years ago, and in late 2018 came a breakthrough with the gel.
Long had never before designed a product for use in a human body, but he said it is one of his ultimate goals. Similarly, Showalter has never created a medical product. “We complemented each other,” said Long.
The project has received new funding from the National Institutes of Health, is underway with lab testing and likely will go to clinical trials in early 2020. The latest chemical makeup of the hydrogel is based on sugars and bio-sourced feed stocks, Long said. An initial gel used baking soda and a digestive aid, similar to an over-the-counter drug for constipation.
“I think we are onto something good,” said Long, who will be a consultant during the clinical trials.
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