Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy have received a $1.7 million five-year federal grant to develop a new approach to treat brain tumors.
A hydrogel-based delivery system, similar in consistency to gelatin, has been developed to control the release of chemotherapy drugs that will kill glioblastoma multiforme, the most advanced and invasive form of brain tumor, and other solid tumors, said Richard Gemeinhart, assistant professor in the departments of biopharmaceutical sciences and bioengineering and lead researcher of the study. The novel approach stabilizes the drug and provides better control of the time and location of its activity, thereby reducing its side effects.
Gemeinhart said the drug will be activated from the hydrogel through the overactivity of matrix metalloproteases, enzymes that renew extracellular matrix in tissue that include the joints.
Approximately 40,000 people are diagnosed each year with a new brain tumor, according to the National Institutes of Health. Of these new tumors, 50 percent are primary and 50 percent have originated in other parts of the body and traveled to the brain.
Brain tumors are the third leading cause of death from cancer in individuals ages 20 to 39; about 13,000 people die of malignant brain tumors each year in the United States. About 1,500 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with a brain tumor each year.
Surgery followed by chemotherapy is the primary treatment for glioblastoma multiforme, Gemeinhart said. However, surgery alone cannot completely treat the disease or prevent its recurrence. The chemotherapy drugs currently used are limited due to systemic toxicity, resistance, and their inability to efficiently cross the blood brain barrier, he said.
"Our understanding of the disease suggests that localizing chemotherapy to the tumor resection site can improve survival," Gemeinhart said. "Currently, the mean survival time for glioblastoma multiforme patients is one year."
All of the work to date has been performed in vitro, Gemeinhart said, but preclinical models are planned as part of the grant.
The grant is funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, one of the National Institutes of Health.
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