Brain cancer would be much easier to treat successfully if surgeons could completely remove every bit of it. Unfortunately, cells from the most common brain cancer, glioma, spread beyond tumors into important, healthy brain tissue.
That means cancer can return, despite chemotherapy and radiation.
|Neurosurgeon Behnam Badie, left, aims to use nanotechnology to treat brain cancer. (Photo ©2005 Philip Channing)|
City of Hope researchers are looking for more effective treatments. And technology from space exploration may play a big part.
Behnam Badie, M.D., chief of City of Hope's Division of Neurosurgery, and his colleagues aim to awaken the body’s natural defenses to battle malignant glioma. To do that, they are working with scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., on a treatment that would use tiny molecular machines to boost the body’s fight against cancer.
Badie, director of City of Hope’s Brain Tumor Program, explained that the immune-based strategy would target cancer cells and leave healthy tissue alone.
It all begins with cells called macrophages. These are immune system cells that normally can detect and engulf bacteria and other invaders. They also can get rid of abnormal, potentially cancerous cells in the body.
But gliomas seem to tame and deflect macrophages. Moreover, they might even use macrophages to help spread themselves over a wider area in the brain.
Badie and his colleagues hope to turn the macrophages back against glioma. They plan to “reprogram” the macrophages by inserting special genetic material into them — and this is where the realm of space comes in.
Molecular machines called carbon nanotubes, developed by JPL nanotechnology experts as part of their robotic space exploration efforts, can successfully inject that genetic material into the macrophages.
Early laboratory results are encouraging. Researchers hope that someday the delivery system can be used within the body to harness a patient’s own immune system to fight brain cancer. This approach also is known as immunotherapy.
“Our partnership has already advanced cancer research in the lab,” said Badie, “and may lead to new treatments.”
The work is being funded in part by a $50,000 ThinkCure seed grant. ThinkCure, the official charity of the Los Angeles Dodgers Major League Baseball team, is a community-based nonprofit that raises funds to support collaborative cancer research at City of Hope and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.