Localized cooling of brain tumors leads to improved survival rates, according to a new study in rats. The results provide hope for new treatment options for patients with certain hard-to-treat brain cancers.
Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common type of cancerous brain tumor. It is an aggressive and fast-growing cancer, and has a poor survival rate. There are some treatments for GBM – usually surgery, followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy – but scientists are always looking for alternative options that might offer an improved chance of long-term survival.
Now, a team of scientists led by Dr Syed Faaiz Enam of Duke University has come up with an innovative new way to treat GBM. By using a device to cool the tumor cells down to between 20 and 25°C (68 and 77°F), they were able to stop cell growth in rats with GBM. Most of the treated rats survived at least twice as long as untreated controls. Even better, while the rats were undergoing this treatment, they were able to move around, eat, and behave normally.
The idea of using low temperatures to treat cancer is not a new one, but previous approaches have relied on freezing. Unfortunately, this also damages the surrounding healthy tissue. The advantage of this new approach is that the temperatures used should not pose a significant risk to healthy brain areas, but are cold enough to stop tumor cells in their tracks.
Indeed, this appeared to be the case. As the authors write, “while hypothermia treatment exhibited tumor necrosis [cell death] with…inflammation in the immediate region of the probe, there was no evident…damage to the adjacent brain.”
The team now wants to test their device further, with the hope of one day making this technology available to treat human GBM patients.
To explore what that might look like, the authors produced this model image of a cooling device that could be fitted to a patient to treat their tumor:
They suggest that devices such as this could even be designed to allow patients to continue to receive regular brain scans to monitor tumor growth. The research is not quite at this stage yet, and further work needs to be done, but the authors are optimistic.
“Our preliminary computational and in vivo studies, in conjunction with our designs and the field of neural interfaces, make a patient-centric device within reach.”
The study is published in Science Advances.