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Portable Electrical Device Slows Growth of Deadliest Brain Cancer

Equipment could be ‘game-changer’ in glioblastoma treatment

A noninvasive, portable electrical device tested at major medical centers around the country has been found to lengthen the lives of patients with glioblastoma (GBM), the most common and deadliest form of brain cancer.

The device proved to be so successful in early testing that on November 15 an independent monitoring committee recommended cutting short the latest phase of its clinical trials and allowing all test patients to be treated with it, according to a report from the Hermelin Brain Tumor Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.

“This is not a cure,” said neuro-oncologist Tobias Walbert, MD, PhD. “But these early results have been so impressive that we might be looking at a game-changer in the treatment of glioblastoma.”

GBM poses a particular problem for cancer surgeons and oncologists. While some tumors have clearly defined margins that differentiate them from normal brain tissue, GBM margins are diffuse, blending into healthy tissue, and therefore cannot be cured by surgery alone. Therefore, the standard treatment includes radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Even then, patients’ average life expectancy is only about 12 to 18 months.

The promising electrical device, designed to be worn at least 20 hours a day to be effective, weighs about 6 pounds; is powered by rechargeable batteries; and is carried by the patient in a small backpack. The device received FDA approval in 2011 only to treat patients with recurring GBM, not first-time cases.

The manufacturer (Novocure) is currently seeking FDA approval to use the device on all GBM patients.

Marketed under the brand name Optune, the equipment creates low-intensity alternating electric fields –– called tumor-treating fields (TTFs) –– and delivers them through wires attached to the patient’s shaved scalp by four adhesive transducer pads that target the brain tumor. Placement of the transducers is determined by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Clinical trials showed that the device’s TTFs reversed tumor growth and killed cancer cells by disrupting mitosis. The results were presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuro-Oncology, held November 13–16 in Miami, Florida.

Data collected from the first 315 of approximately 700 patients showed the following:

• Patients treated with both TTFs and temozolomide (Temodar, Merck) chemotherapy showed a “significant increase” in progression-free survival compared with those treated with chemotherapy alone –– a median of 7.1 months compared with 4.0 months.

• Patients treated with both TTFs and temozolomide also showed a “significant increase” in overall survival compared with those treated with temozolomide alone –– a median 19.6 months compared with 16.6 months.

• Forty-three percent of patients treated with both TTFs and temozolomide chemotherapy were still alive after 2 years compared with 29% of those treated with chemotherapy alone.

The only adverse effect reported by the researchers was irritation of the scalp where the transducers were attached.

Source: Henry Ford Health System; November 18, 2014.

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