The reason why glioblastoma cancers are difficult to treat is due to the malignant cells from tumors spreading throughout the brain and invading new locations through blood vessels. Now, researchers have learned to hijack this migratory mechanism, turning it against the cancer by using a film of nanofibers thinner than human hair to lure tumor cells away.
Instead of invading new areas, the migrating cells latch onto the specially-designed nanofibers and follow them to a location - potentially outside the brain - where they can be captured and killed. Using this technique, researchers can partially move tumors from inoperable locations to more accessible ones. Though it won't eliminate the cancer, the new technique reduced the size of brain tumors in animal models, suggesting that this form of brain cancer might one day be treated more like a chronic disease.
"We have designed a polymer thin film nanofiber that mimics the structure of nerves and blood vessels that brain tumor cells normally use to invade other parts of the brain," explained Ravi Bellamkonda, lead investigator and chair of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. "The cancer cells normally latch onto these natural structures and ride them like a monorail to other parts of the brain. By providing an attractive alternative fiber, we can efficiently move the tumors along a different path to a destination that we choose."
Details of the technique were reported February 16 in the journal Nature Materials
. The research was supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health; by Atlanta-based Ian's Friends Foundation, and by the Georgia Research Alliance. In addition to the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, the research team included Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University.
Treating the Glioblastoma multiforme cancer, also known as GBM, is difficult because the aggressive and invasive cancer often develops in parts of the brain where surgeons are reluctant to operate. Even if the primary tumor can be removed, however, it has often spread to other locations before being diagnosed.