Therapeutic Strategies to Overcome Fibrotic Barriers to Nanomedicine in the Pancreatic Tumor Microenvironment

Hiroyoshi Y. Tanaka, Takuya Nakazawa, Atsushi Enomoto, Atsushi Masamune, Mitsunobu R. Kano

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Pancreatic cancer is notorious for its dismal prognosis. The enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect theory posits that nanomedicines (therapeutics in the size range of approximately 10–200 nm) selectively accumulate in tumors. Nanomedicine has thus been suggested to be the “magic bullet”—both effective and safe—to treat pancreatic cancer. However, the densely fibrotic tumor microenvironment of pancreatic cancer impedes nanomedicine delivery. The EPR effect is thus insufficient to achieve a significant therapeutic effect. Intratumoral fibrosis is chiefly driven by aberrantly activated fibroblasts and the extracellular matrix (ECM) components secreted. Fibroblast and ECM abnormalities offer various potential targets for therapeutic intervention. In this review, we detail the diverse strategies being tested to overcome the fibrotic barriers to nanomedicine in pancreatic cancer. Strategies that target the fibrotic tissue/process are discussed first, which are followed by strategies to optimize nanomedicine design. We provide an overview of how a deeper understanding, increasingly at single-cell resolution, of fibroblast biology is revealing the complex role of the fibrotic stroma in pancreatic cancer pathogenesis and consider the therapeutic implications. Finally, we discuss critical gaps in our understanding and how we might better formulate strategies to successfully overcome the fibrotic barriers in pancreatic cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number724
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Feb


  • extracellular matrix
  • fibroblast
  • fibrosis
  • nanomedicine
  • pancreatic cancer
  • tumor microenvironment


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