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Wireless implant could help remove deadly brain tumors

CGI image of brain tumor as seen from above

Conceptual image for brain cancer treatment using nanotechnology

by Kateryna_Kon

Oct 13 2022

By Nina Bai

Brain tumors are among the most deadly and difficult-to-treat cancers. Glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form, kills more than 10,000 Americans a year and has a median survival time of less than 15 months.

For patients with brain tumors, treatment typically includes open-skull surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible followed by chemotherapy or radiation, which come with serious side effects and numerous hospital visits.

What if a patient's brain tumor could be treated painlessly, without anesthesia, in the comfort of their home? Researchers at Stanford Medicine have developed, and tested in mice, a small wireless device that one day could do just that. The device is a remotely activated implant that can heat up nanoparticles injected into the tumor, gradually killing cancerous cells. 

In mice with brain tumors, 15 minutes of daily treatment over 15 days, as the animals went about their normal activities, was enough to significantly increase survival times. The researchers published their work in August in Nature NanoTechnology.

"The nanoparticles help us target the treatment to only the tumor, so the side effects will be relatively less compared with chemotherapy and radiation," said Hamed Arami, PhD, co-lead  author of the paper, a former postdoctoral fellow at Stanford Medicine who is now at Arizona State University.

Arami, trained as a bioengineer, came to focus on brain cancer as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of the late Sam Gambhir, MD, former chair of radiology at Stanford Medicine and a pioneer in molecular imaging and cancer diagnostics who died of cancer in 2020 . Five years prior, Gambhir's teenage son, Milan, died of a glioblastoma.

"There was a real passion in his lab to fight against this type of cancer," Arami said.

Heat treatment

Photothermal treatment of brain tumors -- using light to heat up nanoparticles -- had been done before, but it could be performed only during surgery, when the brain tumor was exposed to the light source.

Hoping to develop a system that did not require baring the brain, Gambhir had reached out to Ada Poon, PhD, a Stanford University associate professor of electrical engineering, who specializes in wireless devices that can integrate with the body.