In Belfast, Northern Ireland, a groundbreaking procedure sheds a ray of hope on the grueling battle against pancreatic adenocarcinoma, a formidable opponent in the cancer world. With a novel approach named irreversible electroporation (IRE), a team of medical experts from the Department of Hepatobiliary Surgery and Interventional Radiology at Mater Hospital and Royal Victoria Hospital has delivered a first-of-its-kind treatment in the region, demonstrating promising outcomes. This article delves into their study, its implications, and the emerging hope for patients who previously had limited options.

Headed by Miss R Wilson and her team – R S McCain, G Kirk, R Sathyanarayana, and R Lindsay—this innovative treatment has placed Northern Ireland on the map for advanced pancreatic cancer care. Here we explore the journey of IRE in treating pancreatic adenocarcinoma, the results observed, and the potential paradigm shift in cancer therapy it signifies.

Irreversible Electroporation: A Novel Mechanism of Action

Electroporation is a technique that applies short bursts of high-voltage electrical currents to cells, thereby creating pores in the cell membranes. In the case of IRE, the electrical pulses are calibrated to a level that induces permanent damage to the cells, leading to apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Unlike traditional methods, IRE does not rely on thermal damage, making it a valuable option for tumors situated in proximity to delicate vascular and ductal structures without posing significant harm to them.

IRE Treatment of Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma: Northern Ireland’s First

In May 2019, the Ulster Medical Journal published a pivotal report detailing the first instance of IRE being applied to a patient with pancreatic adenocarcinoma in Northern Ireland (Wilson et al., 2019). Given the complexities and risks associated with pancreatic cancer surgery, often compounded by the tumor’s intricate location, IRE presents itself as a less invasive alternative that can be performed percutaneously or through minimally invasive surgery.

The Belfast team’s foray into this treatment was aimed at providing a novel solution beyond traditional chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and extensive surgeries, which, in many instances, only offer limited success. The article published under the DOI: 10.3318/UMJ.2019.88 demonstrates this medical milestone, potentially setting the stage for future interventions with a patient-centric focus.

Initial Findings and Implications

While the Ulster Medical Journal article did not furnish extensive data, it offered a glimpse into the early success of the procedure. A comprehensive systematic review of the safety and efficacy of IRE for locally advanced pancreatic cancer conducted by Ansari et al. (2017) aligns with the Northern Ireland team’s optimism. This review encompassed multiple studies and concluded that IRE presents a safe option that does not appear to compromise the function of critical vessels and ducts surrounding the pancreas.

A more recent, prospective multi-institutional study corroborates the safety profile and the initial effectiveness of IRE. Holland et al. (2019) evaluated IRE as a treatment modality for locally advanced pancreatic adenocarcinoma through the American Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association (AHPBA) Pancreatic Registry. Results from this assessment revealed favorable outcomes in select patients, suggesting that IRE could play a role in prolonging survival and improving the quality of life in locally advanced cases.

Challenges, Controversies, and Future Perspectives

Despite the encouraging outlook, the introduction of IRE into clinical practice does come with its set of challenges and controversies. One significant consideration is identifying the appropriate patient cohort that will benefit most from this treatment, owing to the varied presentations and stages of pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

Moreover, as with any emerging technology, the high cost and lack of widespread expertise can hinder IRE’s accessibility and integration into the standard care regimen. It is also imperative that longitudinal studies be performed to better understand the long-term impacts of IRE and to establish it as a definitive treatment pathway.


1. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma treatment
2. Irreversible Electroporation (IRE)
3. Advanced pancreatic cancer therapy
4. Belfast breakthrough in cancer
5. Non-thermal ablation for pancreas


The vehement pursuit of better outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients has heralded the introduction of irreversible electroporation in Northern Ireland. As medical practitioners and researchers continue to explore this treatment avenue, there is hope for more robust findings and potential widespread adoption in the oncological community. Although still in its infancy compared to established modalities, IRE’s early successes noted by the Ulster medical team may very well mark the beginning of a new chapter in pancreatic cancer management.


Ansari, D., Kristoffersson, S., Andersson, R., Bergenfeldt, M. (2017). The role of irreversible electroporation (IRE) for locally advanced pancreatic cancer: a systematic review of safety and efficacy. Scand J Gastroenterol, 52(11), 1165–1171.

Holland, M. M., Bhutiani, N., Kruse, E. J., Weiss, M. J., Christein, J. D., White, R. R., et al. (2019). A prospective, multi-institution assessment of irreversible electroporation for treatment of locally advanced pancreatic adenocarcinoma: initial outcomes from the AHPBA pancreatic registry. HPB (Oxford).

Wilson, Miss R., McCain, R. S., Kirk, G., Sathyanarayana, R., Lindsay, R. (2019). IRREVERSIBLE ELECTROPORATION TREATMENT OF PANCREATIC ADENOCARCINOMA – A FIRST IN NORTHERN IRELAND. Ulster Med J, 88(2), 87–87.

Ulster Medical Journal (2019). The Ulster medical journal, 88(2). ISSN 2046-4207.

Willemijn, S. M., P., & Scheffer, H. J. (2015). Irreversible Electroporation in Clinical Practice. Pharmaceuticals, 8(3), 526-542.