Potential New Treatment for Aggressive Brain Tumors
Scientists are hot on the trail of a potential new treatment for aggressive brain tumors known as glioblastoma multiforme. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 22,000 Americans were estimated to have been diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme in 2010.
Currently, there are no effective treatments for glioblastoma multiforme, a highly malignant disease with a typical survival time, depending on how aggressive the cancer is and the treatments used, of 6 to 18 months. For example, adults with more aggressive disease who are treated with both temozolamide (an oral chemotherapy drug) and radiation have a median survival of 14.6 months and a two-year survival of 30 percent.
Researchers have explored a number of innovative approaches to treatment of these brain tumors. Thus far, gene therapy, high-intensity focused ultrasound, and bacterial toxin therapy have not provided good results.
Potential new treatment for brain tumors
A team at Tel Aviv University (TAU) recently completed a study using nanotechnology to address this deadly cancer. Nanotechnology in medicine has been described as “like having a submicroscopic lab bench on which you can handle cell components, viruses or pieces of DNA, using a range of tiny tools, robots and tubes.” How “tiny” is tiny? A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.
Under direction of Professor Dan Peer, of TAU’s Department of Cell Research and Immunology and Director of TAU’s Center for NanoMedicine, the researchers adapted a nanoparticle treatment originally developed to target ovarian cancer tumors and used it to focus on glioblastoma multiforme.
The experiment was conducted using mice who had been implanted with human glioma. One group of mice were treated with the new treatment and a second group was treated with standard chemotherapy.
Briefly, treatment involved injecting specially designed nanoparticles, which acted as the drug delivery system, into the tumors. The drug in this case was nucleic acid with interference RNAs, which attached to receptors that are expressed specifically on glioma cells, and stopped the activity of a key protein (gene) that regulates the rapid reproduction of the cancer cells.
The researchers hoped that by silencing this gene, they would stop the proliferation of cancer cells. They observed the following:
- 60 percent of the afflicted mice were still alive 100 days after they were treated with four injections over a 30-day period
- All of the mice in the control group died 30 to 34.5 days into chemotherapy treatment
Concerning the findings, Professor Peer noted that although the work is preliminary, “the data is so promising--it would be a crime not to pursue it.” My guess is that the tens of thousands of individuals each year who face the possibility of being diagnosed with these aggressive brain tumors would agree with that statement.