New patent issued to LIMR professor for methods that may help prevent esophageal cancer

A new patent that outlines methods for the treatment of Barrett’s esophagus by orally administered zinc was awarded by the U.S. Patent Office to James Mullin, PhD, professor at Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR).

Patients with Barrett’s esophagus, the precancerous esophageal condition caused by long-term gastrointestinal reflux disease, have a significantly higher risk of developing cancer of the esophagus than the general population. Moreover, esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) has one of the most rapidly increasing cancer incidences in the United States. If EAC is not caught early, it has one of the lowest five-year survival rates of any cancer: less than 10 percent. Finding a way to effectively treat Barrett’s and stop its progression to EAC is paramount among those in the gastroenterology community. Currently, no cancer-preventive options exist for this condition.

In recent years, researchers have shown in preclinical studies that a deficiency of the common mineral zinc can promote the development of esophageal cancer, and that proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) — prescription medicines that have almost universal use among Barrett’s patients — can block the uptake of zinc into the bloodstream. Thus, the medications meant to relieve the symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus are, in turn, reducing a nutritional mineral that patients need to stave off progression of their disease to cancer.

“Given that all Barrett’s patients take PPI drugs for their reflux symptoms, and that PPIs block zinc absorption into the bloodstream, the only meaningful zinc entry into Barrett’s cells would be topical delivery of the mineral to the Barrett’s tissue, which is achieved by our formulation,” said Dr. Mullin, whose study results were published in 2014 in the journal Therapeutic Delivery. “Our lab showed that our formulation of orally administered zinc was accessible to Barrett’s cells and capable of causing molecular changes in them. Zinc is truly acting as a drug here.”

Dr. Mullin’s new patent, entitled “Compositions and Methods for the Prevention of Esophageal Cancer,” is for methods that comprise administering zinc to a patient’s esophagus either orally, topically or by implantable medical device. The patent also covers zinc combinations with other drugs that could provide even better cancer protection. LIMR has entered into negotiations with an outside company for the commercialization and marketing of a zinc-based, over-the-counter product for prophylactic treatment of Barrett’s.

“Zinc is an inexpensive, readily available and safe supplement that many people take for nutritional enhancement,” said Dr. Mullin. “By determining the best way to apply zinc directly to the esophageal tissue, and demonstrating cancer preventive changes in the precancerous cells, we believe we may be able to help Barrett’s patients avoid the onset of cancerous lesions of the esophagus.”

Dr. Mullin’s research at LIMR focuses on the role of gastrointestinal (tight junctional) leakiness in GI cancer, aging, infectious diseases and inflammatory diseases. In addition to serving as a professor at LIMR, Dr. Mullin is the director of research for the Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, at Lankenau Medical Center. He has authored and co-authored more than 80 published manuscripts during his long and distinguished research career.


In recognition of his many accomplishments, Dr. Mullin was elected a fellow to the American Gastroenterological Association in 2008. His research has been funded over the years by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Aging, the State of Pennsylvania, and several philanthropic foundations.


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