What If We Could Trick The Brain Tumor Cells To Move Outside The Skull?

  • In 2014, researchers developed a mechanism that lures cancerous brain cells outside the skull. 
  • FDA has recently awarded them the ‘breakthrough therapy designation’ for their groundbreaking discovery. 

Despite cancer therapies that include surgical removal, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the recurrence rates of tumor cells remain obstinately high. In some cases, tumors are inoperable because of their intricate locations and sizes within the brain.

Glioblastoma — one of the most aggressive cancers that spread within the brain — is notoriously difficult to treat and in spite of maximum treatment, it usually reoccurs and spreads throughout the brain by following blood vessels and nerve fibers to invade new locations.

In 2014, researchers at Georgia Tech developed a mechanism that can trick cancerous cells to move in a new direction, essentially luring them outside of the brain. Now, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has awarded them the ‘breakthrough therapy designation‘ for their groundbreaking discovery.

Migrating Cancer Cells

Rather than invading new locations, the migrating cancerous cells latch onto customized nanofibers and follow them to a target region where they can be easily captured and destroyed. The methodology allows scientists to partially move tumor cells from hard-to-access locations to operable ones.

To do this, researchers used a thin nanofiber film (made of polycaprolactone polymer) that mimics the structure of blood vessels and brain, which cancerous cells typically use to invade other regions within the brain.

Reference: NCBI | doi:10.1038/NMAT3878 | Georgia Tech

Although the technique won’t completely eliminate the tumor, it was able to reduce the brain tumor size in animal (rat) models, indicating that it’s possible to treat such aggressive cancers more like a chronic disease.

moving brain tumor cells outside the skull Courtesy of researchers 

However, the technique has to undergo extensive testing before it is implemented on humans. Since it is a lot less dangerous than using pharmaceutical chemicals, it could be preferable to existing radiation and drug therapies.

Accelerating the Development Process

Developing new treatment methods and proving they are suitable for humans is a difficult and time-consuming process. It could easily take more than 10 years. However, FDA breakthrough therapy designation can speed up the development and review of new medications for life-threatening diseases.

This breakthrough therapy designation is extremely useful for studies that involve long-course diseases in which an extended period of time is required to evaluate the necessary clinical benefits of treatments.

The nanofiber developed by researchers is still not approved for clinical use: they will have to prove its safety and effectiveness in people first. And even if the method enters the market, sponsors may be required to carry out post-marketing trials to describe and validate its clinical benefits. If further trials fail to do that, the FDA will disapprove this method.

The team has already demonstrated their method by migrating tumor cells from location A to location B in a rat. They successfully reduced the growth rate and size of the tumor by 90%. It’s been five years now, and during this time period researchers have tweaked their technique multiple times.

Read: The First Brain-to-Brain Interface Lets 3 People Share Thoughts Directly To Each Other’s Head

With researchers’ vision and dedication, this exceptional work is now closer to reality. By moving the inoperable tumor to an operable location, it could give hope to all people who are fighting the greatest battle of their lives.

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