Toronto hospital becomes world’s first to treat brain tumour with non-invasive procedure

TORONTO – Scientists at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital have taken the next bold step in chemotherapy by developing a non-invasive procedure to treat brain tumours.

The hospital said it made history last week by using a “focused ultrasound” to breach the blood-barrier in the brain to treat patients.

“The blood-brain barrier (BBB) has been a persistent obstacle to delivering valuable therapies to treat disease such as tumours,” says Dr. Todd Mainprize, principal investigator of the study and neurosurgeon in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in a media release.

“We are encouraged that we were able to temporarily open this barrier in a patient to deliver chemotherapy directly to the brain tumour.”

The chemotherapy treatment begins with the patient being given injections of micro-bubbles or microscopic bits of air which circulate in the bloodstream.

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Researchers said they then use a state-of-the-art MRI-guided focused low-intensity ultrasound (sound waves) to target blood vessels in the BBB area near the tumour.

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This causes micro-bubbles to shake and temporarily rip holes in the BBB allowing medication to seep into the tumour.

The hospital said the patient had part of the tumour removed in surgery and tested the next day which confirmed the procedure’s success.

“Some of the most exciting and novel therapeutics for the treatment of malignant brain tumours are not able to reach the tumour cells because of the blood brain barrier,” said Mainprize.

“This technique will open up new opportunities to deliver potentially much more effective treatments to the targeted areas.”

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Scientists said the trial will include six to ten more patients over the coming months to make sure opening the BBB is safe to penetrate.

The hope is that the new treatment will help patients suffering from brain cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Breaching this barrier opens up a new frontier in treating brain disorders,” says Dr. Neal Kassell, chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation.

“We are encouraged by the momentum building for the use of focused ultrasound to non-invasively deliver therapies for a number of brain disorders.”

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