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Cancer research focuses on brain

Al Musella's Comments: (This is his personal views and are not necessarily the views of the Musella Foundation!)


Posted on: 07/08/2003

Cancer research focuses on brain

By Mary Powers

July 8, 2003

Memphis researchers are trying a more targeted approach to killing cancer cells that linger after brain tumors are removed.

The experimental strategy delivers radiation and anti-cancer drugs directly to the tumor site. It is a bid to bolster treatment effectiveness and simultaneously reduce side effects.

The study's focus is a malignant brain tumor known as a giloblastoma.

This year, about 4,300 Americans will have giloblastomas diagnosed.

Currently, the tumor kills about half of those affected within 11 months of diagnosis.

"It is a very difficult disease," said Dr. Allen Sills, who is directing the study's Memphis arm, based at Methodist University Hospital.

The study also is being conducted at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

So far, local researchers have enrolled one of the 15 patients they hope to recruit.

Traditionally, such patients undergo surgery to remove the tumor followed by weeks of radiation and sometimes chemotherapy. But the tumor often returns within months at almost the same location.

"It is hard to get therapy to the tumor site," explained Sills, a neurosurgeon with Semmes-Murphey Clinic and a University of Tennessee Health Science Center assistant professor.

For this study, researchers are tapping new ways to deliver both radiation and chemotherapy. It is funded by Proxima Therapeutics Inc., which builds the radiation delivery system.

Traditionally, radiation is beamed to the former tumor site from outside the patient's skull.

For this study, radiation is delivered from within the brain. When doctors remove the tumor, they leave a balloon in the resulting cavity. The balloon is attached to a tube that allows doctors to inject a fluid carrying radioactive iodine 125 into the former tumor site.

The goal is to protect healthy brain tissue while delivering the high radiation dose to the brain tissue closest to where the tumor was, Sills explained.

The treatment targets tissue where tumors are most likely to recur.

After up to seven days of treatment, the fluid, balloon and catheter are removed.

A wafer designed to slowly release anti-cancer drugs is left behind. "It dissolves like a bar of soap," he said. That is followed with additional chemotherapy, this time taken in pill form.

Sills said the approach is already being tried at a number of U.S. medical centers to combat recurring tumors.

This study is designed to check the safety of the approach. Sills said promising results would likely lead to expanded research.

- Mary Powers: 529-2383

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