Revolutionary new hope for brain cancer patients

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Canadian hospital treats brain tumour without invasive procedure, world’s first

By Aaron Guillen, Staff Reporter

Recently, neuroscientists at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto have made significant progress in how brain cancer is treated. In a ground-breaking procedure performed only weeks ago, Dr. Todd Mainprize has lead the study into delivering medication into the brain through a non-intrusive technique.

Mainprize noted to CTV News that from 1940 to 2005 there wasn’t much improvement in the approach to treating brain cancer. The obstacle facing doctors around the world has been the blood-brain barrier.

“The blood-brain barrier has long been an obstacle for doctors trying to treat brain diseases. The barrier is a layer of tightly packed cells that act like plastic wrap, surrounding each of the brain’s blood vessels, protecting them from infections and toxins,” explained CTV News.

While this “saran wrap” protector shields the brain against harmful substances, it ironically prevents the life-saving medication much-needed to cure diseases such as brain cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. For years, scientists have been looking for a solution to this problem because treatments to the brain, such as chemotherapy, have only been effective up to 25 per cent of the time, if ever.

Finally, in an attempt to break through the saran wrap, doctors have successfully formulated a brilliant plan. First, a dosage of chemotherapy is given to the patient, determined by the situation. Secondly, microscopic bubbles of air, completely harmless, are injected into the bloodstream. Lastly, using an MRI, an intense ultrasound beam is projected onto a specific area that causes the bubbles to vibrate and break temporary holes in the saran wrap, thus allowing the medication to reach the brain tissue.

With the help from Bonny Hall, a woman who had recently developed a cancerous tumour in her brain, the first treatment was successfully performed. The team of neuroscientists watched in awe as the procedure went flawlessly, opening two spots through which chemotherapy passed through the blood-brain barrier, something never before accomplished.

“Breaching this barrier opens up a new frontier in treating brain disorders. We are encouraged by the momentum building for the use of focused ultrasound to non-invasively deliver therapies for a number of brain disorders,” said Dr. Neal Kassell, chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation to Global News.

Later in the day, Hall had her skull surgically opened for the majority of her tumour to be removed. For the next few weeks, Mainprize and his associates will be studying the extracted tumour for evidence of effective chemotherapy applied through the blood-brain barrier. The team of neuroscientists is hoping to successfully achieve a 100 per cent rate when performing the procedure to nine additional patients. Until then, Hall will be recovering and living every day to the fullest.

“My hope is that I can just be a normal mom, a normal grandma,” she said to CTV.