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Published On: Tue, Aug 19th, 2014

5 Promising New Treatments for Brain Cancer

A diagnosis of cancer in any part of the body is frightening, but being diagnosed with a brain tumor can be especially alarming. Whether it’s because brain cancer is the second leading cause of death in children and young males (ages 20-39), or because we understand the brain as the bedrock of individual consciousness, facing a tumor in the brain is a decidedly daunting task.

Research is constantly underway to combat this deadly form of cancer, but when it comes to navigating the multitude of options available for treatment and care, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. While this list is in no way exhaustive, here are five new treatment options — some of which are still in development — for brain cancer.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is the treatment or prevention of any disease through either the stimulation of a person’s own immune system or through a treatment that involves taking immune system components, like lab-created immune system proteins. In both instances, immunotherapy tries to kick your immune system into overdrive so that it can fight off the cancer or other disease that is making you sick.

There are many different approaches that doctors and researchers use when employing immunotherapy to combat cancer. Some approaches simply boost the immune system in a general way, while others aim to train the immune system to target the cancer cells specifically. Immunotherapy can take many different forms, and it it’s more effective on some types of cancer than on others. Brain cancer is one of the areas where immunotherapy shows the most promise.

photo Dr. Michael Rauzzino,. Screenshot/video NBC

photo Dr. Michael Rauzzino,. Screenshot/video NBC

New Drugs

There are many drugs already in use for brain cancer treatment. Some of these drugs target cancer cells specifically. Others are used in conjunction with other drugs to disrupt the pathways that tumors use to grow and spread. Still others are in development to reduce a tumor’s resistance to chemotherapy.

One compound, called “Vacquinol-1,” is currently being explored for drug development due to its ability to break down cancer cells’ walls so that the cell can’t control what comes in or goes out. When that happens, vacuoles accumulate in the cancer cells and eventually cause the cancer cell to explode. Interestingly Vacquinol-1 only affect cancer cells, leaving the non-cancer cells around it intact. While it’s still in the early phases of exploration and trials, researchers are hopeful about its prospects.

The CyberKnife®

Cyberknife Radiosurgery is a completely non-invasive, non-surgical treatment that delivers highly accurate sub-millimeter radiation directly to brain tumors that are inoperable due to patient health, desire to avoid surgery or tumor location.

Cleared for use by the FDA in 1999, this treatment is more accurate than other radiation therapies, and it also allows the patient a much larger measure of comfort during the procedure than do other therapies. Because it’s non-invasive, patients who undergo CyberKnife Radiosurgery don’t have to stay overnight in the hospital, and the side effects are minimal.

PCL Fiber “Track”

Glioblastoma brain tumors are the most difficult to treat, but a new treatment approach may change that by fighting the cancer along the path it tries to spread. Oftentimes in cancer treatment, healthy brain tissue is damaged over the course of trying to eradicate the cancer. By directing cancer cells along a man-made “track” to cancer-fighting drugs, the healthy brain cells can be spared.

This “track” is built from a polymer called polycaprolactone (PCL), and it imitates the nerves and blood vessels that cancer cells usually travel upon, directing the cells to a gel outside of the brain that has cyclopamine in it — a drug that kills cancer. Still early in its development, this novel approach is nevertheless encouraging.

Blood-Brain Barrier Disruption

Your brain is surrounded by a protective barrier that not only keeps the brain safe during times of health by keeping substances from entering it from your bloodstream, but it also keeps your brain “safe” from external drugs that need to enter it during times of sickness. Blood-brain barrier disruption (BBBD) is an intensive therapy that allows chemotherapy to enter the brain more easily and more efficiently so that it can target cancer cells more effectively.

BBBD shrinks the tight-knit cells that make up your brain’s protective barrier with a concentrated sugar solution, allowing medication to enter the brain and reach the tumor. When compared to chemotherapy that doesn’t use BBBD, the BBBD procedure results in 10 to 100 times more medication at the tumor site.

Brain cancer is rightfully frightening, but science is working hard to stay hot on its heels. From BBBD to immunotherapy, these five new treatments hold promise for anyone suffering under a brain cancer diagnosis. 

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