Patients of malignant brain tumors experience recurrences even after subsequent treatments. To address this issue, scientists at Linköping University, Sweden, and the Medical University of Graz, Austria, have shown that adding an ion pump on cultured cells would result in less adverse effects in chemotherapy. The findings were published in Advanced Materials Technologies.
"This is the first time an ion pump has been tested as a possible method to treat malignant brain tumours. We used cancer cells in the lab, and the results are extremely promising. However, it will probably take five to ten years before we see this new technology used in treatments for brain tumours," says Daniel Simon, associate professor at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at the Department of Science and Technology at Linköping University.
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Researchers used cells from glioblastoma—the most aggressive form of cancer that occurs in the brain. When you surgically remove a brain tumor, small parts are often left behind because they are stuck between brain cells. Even with high precision, it is almost impossible without damaging the brain. The remaining parts of the tumor are often opted for radiation treatment and chemotherapy. However, these attempts are not always successful because of recurrences and the difficulty of certain chemotherapeutic agents to cross the blood-brain barrier.
To address this ongoing issue, researchers developed the ion pump which can get around the blood brain barrier and deliver the therapeutic directly to the brain and with high precision. One ion pump drug that can be delivered is Gemcitabine which is currently used for the treatment of pancreatic cancer, the bladder as well as breast cancer.
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The drug works by disrupting the cell division process in rapidly growing tumors, therefore, the drug is perfect for treating bran tumors since surrounding brain cells do not generally undergo cell division.
"The traditional glioblastoma treatment currently used in the clinics harms both cancer and neuronal cells to the same extent. However, with the gemcitabine ion pump, we tackle only the cancerous cells, while neurons stay healthy. In addition, our experiments on cultured glioblastoma cells show that more cancer cells are killed when we use the ion pump than when we use manual treatment," says Linda Waldherr, postdoctoral fellow at the Medical University of Graz. She has conducted the study together with researchers at Linköping University.
With the ion pump, gemcitabine is transported from an electrolyte reservoir into cells or the tumor. The low current pumps the positively charged drug through an ion transport channel, a common process known as electrophoresis. Because gemcitabine only needs a low current to be pumped, it lowers the risk of brain cells being activated from unnecessary electrical activity.
"The pressure inside the brain is extremely sensitive, and using an ion pump to transport the drug instead of a fluid-driven device means that the pressure is not affected. Also, the dosage is controlled by electrical charging, which makes the supply of the chemotherapy agent extremely precise,” notes Rainer Schindl, associate professor at the Medical University of Graz. “The next step will be to use the ion pump to evaluate different chemotherapy agents that have previously given adverse effects that are too serious or that are unable to pass the blood-brain barrier”.