Researchers Test New Ways to Combat Brain Cancer

by Megan Ray Nichols 

Thanks to researchers testing innovative treatments, brain cancer patients have new hope. Glioblastoma is just one form of brain cancer that may be better treated in the future with one of these new methods. Discover the ways scientists are working to stop the progression of this potentially deadly cancer.

What Is Glioblastoma?

Glioblastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme or GBM, is projected to affect 24,000 Americans in 2018. And 17,000 will die from these fast, aggressive tumors, which are the most common tumor-creating brain cancer. This cancer is a grade 4 tumor that may arise from an existing tumor or on its own. Most who develop GBM are older adults, where the disease typically grows in the frontal or temporal lobes. Without treatment, glioblastoma often kills its victims in about 15 months.

Treatment usually requires surgery to remove the tumor. Radiation and chemotherapy are added to ensure the removal of cancerous cells. Sadly, GBM recurs frequently in patients who have undergone treatment. That’s why new treatment options are so exciting for those with GBM and their families.

Virus vs. Cancer

Though you might not think of a virus versus cancer as much of a battle, researchers are discovering that a cold could help cancer patients live longer. Scientists took a common cold virus, called an adenovirus, and modified it to target glioblastoma. The virus attacked the tumor cells as it normally would other cells by taking over the cell and killing it. Viruses also use the cell’s natural reproduction to make copies of themselves. This allows viruses to spread to other cells.

The trials at MD Anderson Cancer Center gave 20 percent of patients three years or more of life where they’d have just months without treatment. Though the tumor came back in these patients, the viral therapy gives a few more years to those with recurrent tumors. To increase this number, additional studies are looking at combining the viral therapy with other treatments.

Space Age Lasers Blasting Glioblastoma

Laser ablation sounds more like a sci-fi weapon than a cancer treatment, but this option is currently showing promise in trials. Using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, and a laser, heat and light eat away at the tumor inside the brain. Unlike brain surgery, this option does not require completely opening the skull, making it much less invasive. Recovery is easier and faster for the patient.

New Drug Treatments

Though chemotherapy is common in GBM treatment, other drugs could be added to the regime. Many trials currently are studying combinations of drugs. Nivolumab and bevacizumab are being tested in a phase 2 clinical trial. The tolerance and effectiveness of changing bevacizumab to a low dose from a standard and combining it with nivolumab is at the core of this study. During phase 2 clinical trials, the researchers want to establish how effective this treatment is against glioblastoma.

Another phase 2 trial looks at creating a triple-method treatment, which would add to the traditional chemotherapy option, temozolomide. This study hopes to increase the length of time before a new tumor appears after treatment by combining the chemotherapy drug with pembrolizumab and TTFields. TTFields, also known as Optune, is an electromagnetic therapy for treating tumors. The control will only receive TTFields and temozolomide, while the experimental group will add pembrolizumab. Researchers will examine the length of time before the cancer progresses in participants.

Clinical Trials and Glioblastoma Treatment

Though it may take a while before the treatments tested in clinical trials today will be available to the public, it gives hope for future patients. Those who currently have GBM may discuss with their doctors the possibility of participating in clinical trials. As an aggressive, fast-acting cancer, new methods of treatment are always sought by researchers who want to lengthen the lives of those diagnosed with these tumors.

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