This has been possible thanks to a new technology developed at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. The approach involves the utilization of real tiny radioactive liposomes (vesicles that can be used as vehicles), that are inserted through very thin catheters directly into the tumor. The liposomes remain in place and ensure that the tumor, and only the tumor, is radiated.
According to Andrew Brenner, the project’s lead researcher, the second patient is expected to enroll in the study in less than a month.
At Williams’ first follow-up, he said he felt great and had not experienced any side effects commonly reported as consequences of radiation therapy. The new technology transmits radiation through healthy tissue so the tumor is reached and, consequently, the radiation it delivers must be thoroughly controlled.
“This technology is unique. Only we can load the liposomes to these very high radioactivity levels,” said Dr. Brenner.
The concept was previously explored and advanced by other researchers originally trying to address head and neck cancers.
Dr. Brenner, who had a different vision for the treatment concept, said: “I thought it made sense to use it in brain cancer first. The skull is a rigid structure,” and, additionally, the tissue inside is not so varied. The neck, for instance, is composed of several different types of tissue.
“One of the challenges is how to get the highly radioactive nano liposomes into the brain, and precisely into the tumor. Surgical targeting, precision, and delivery became of the utmost importance,” said Dr. Floyd, neurosurgeon involved in the project. This new technique is possible, thanks to advances in nanotechnology and the improvements in catheter design.
Not all brain tumors are malignant, but glioblastoma is deadly and attacks the brain in unpredictable ways.
“It’s a terrible thing for a family to lose a loved one to glioblastoma. It’s tough to lose them to any cancer, but with the brain tumor you see them change right before your eyes,” explained Brenner.
It is an extremely slow process to advance a cancer drug to the clinical stage phase, since it requires a lot of time, money and regulation. Thanks to a partnership with NanoTx, Dr. Brenner gained a $2 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas in February.
Ian M. Thompson Jr., The CTRC Director, noted: “It is exceedingly unusual for any major university or cancer center to take a basic science discovery from the lab all the way through the marathon of requirements and hurdles, and to then witness a patient receiving the treatment. This is a testimony to our dedicated scientists and physicians, to our institution’s commitment to major advances in clinical care, and to so many individuals in the San Antonio community who helped make it possible.”
Unfortunately, not everybody can be chosen for this study and there are no guarantees of its effectiveness. “The main limitation right now is we have to start with small-sized tumors, until we get a better handle on our delivery methods, to make sure we can cover larger tumors,” he clarified.
Dr. Brenner and his research team are confident and expect encouraging results from this study.