Brain tumors are notoriously difficult to treat. And while research and science has resulted in success with other types of cancers, brain tumors have had mixed results. According to braintumor.org, between 1998 and 2014, there were 78 investigational brain tumor drugs that entered the clinical trial evaluation process. Seventy-five failed, and only three were approved (one conditionally). That is a 25:1 failure ratio in developing new brain tumor treatments over the past two decades.
However, doctors are continually working to learn more about brain tumors. They study how to prevent them, treat them and provide the best care to their patients. The following areas of investigational research may include new options for patients through clinical trials:
Enhanced imaging tests: These are new techniques for imaging scans.
Biomarkers: Using blood or other tests to determine the presence of a brain tumor before symptoms begin.
Immunotherapy: Also called biological response modifier (BRM) therapy, this technique is meant to fight the cancer by fortifying the body’s natural defenses, such as dendritic cells (the main function of which is to process and present antigens, causing an immune response), or vaccines. Several methods are being tested in clinical trials.
Targeted therapy: Treatment that targets faulty genes or proteins that contribute to cancer growth and development.
Blood-brain barrier disruption: A system to allow chemotherapy to more easily enter the brain via the bloodstream by temporarily disrupting the brain’s natural protective barrier.
New drugs and combinations of drugs: New drugs and combinations of drugs are being developed. And since tumors can develop resistance to chemotherapy, another approach is to use a treatment that targets how tumor cells develop resistance.
Gene therapy: Therapy that seeks to replace or repair abnormal genes that are causing or helping tumor growth.
Genetic research: Seeking to learn more about mutations of specific genes and how they relate to the risk and growth of brain tumors. This includes discovering more on the link between genetics and glioblastoma.
In other news…
Recently, a story broke on tumor paint, an experimental substance derived from scorpion venom. This paint is injected into a patient’s vein, and it actually crosses the blood-brain barrier and finds its way to a brain tumor. Doctors then shine a near-infrared light on a tumor coated with tumor paint, and the tumor glows. This is a revolutionary way to determine the precise location of the tumor, which is notoriously complicated to scope for exact size and location.
Officials with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have expanded approval to enroll patients from infants to young adults in a clinical trial of the Blaze Bioscience drug BLZ-100, which is known as Tumor Paint. The paint was created by Dr. Jim Olson, a pediatric brain-cancer expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington.
The paint is made from two chemicals. The first is chlorotoxin, a protein derived from scorpion venom, which targets the chloride receptors on the surface of tumor cells. The protein carries a second, non-toxic chemical that makes the cells fluoresce when they are exposed to near-infrared light.
Tests at this early stage are designed to make sure that the paint works as it’s supposed to, and initial results have been promising.
Despite this clearly exciting development, surgeons such as Dr. Arno Fried, founder of Advanced Neurosurgery Associates (ANA), and others believe the ideal future is in treatments other than surgery. Surgery is still considered a “crude” technique to eliminate tumors, as one researcher said. But as long as surgery reigns as the standard treatment, tumor paint is yet another method that could help surgeons be much more precise.