CANCER, NEUROLOGY & NEUROSURGERY

Magnetic Device Shrinks Glioblastoma Tumor in World's First Human Test

Sep. 3, 2021 - Eden McCleskey

Houston Methodist neurosurgery researchers significantly shrank the deadliest form of brain cancer with an oscillating magnetic field (OMF)-generating helmet worn by the patient in his own home.

The helmet reduced the cancer, a glioblastoma, by nearly one third during the month the patient wore it. The experiment marked the first human application of the noninvasive device, which was developed by the Houston Methodist team.

"Our results in the laboratory and with this patient open a new world of noninvasive and nontoxic therapy for brain cancer, with many exciting possibilities for the future," says Dr. David Baskin, director of the Kenneth R. Peak Center for Brain and Pituitary Tumor Treatment. "Imagine treating brain cancer without radiation therapy or chemotherapy."

The therapy was well-tolerated by the patient, offering hope that the treatment does not negatively impact quality of life.

Courageous patient and family help advance science

Unfortunately, the 53-year-old patient died following an unrelated injury about a month into the treatment. An autopsy confirmed that during that time, 31% of his brain tumor disappeared.

Dr. Baskin thanked the family for agreeing to the autopsy, which he said made "an invaluable contribution" to the study and development of "this potentially powerful therapy."

"Thanks to the courage of the patient and his family, we were able to test and verify the potential effectiveness of the first noninvasive therapy for glioblastoma in the world," says Dr. Baskin.

Dr. Baskin received FDA approval for compassionate use of the helmet, then under research in mouse models, following the recurrence of the patient's end-stage glioblastoma. At that stage, the disease typically kills the patient in a matter of months.

The patient underwent intermittent use of the OMF helmet, first administered for two hours under supervision at the Peak Center, then in daily at-home treatments up to a maximum of six hours per day. The home care was assisted by the patient's wife.

A new way to attack cancerous glial cells

Because electromagnetic fields have been shown to produce anticancer effects in vitro — and treatment options and outcomes for glioblastoma have remained dismal despite more than 40 years of research — the FDA has approved treatment involving electric fields.

Specially devised patterns of magnet rotations have shown strong, selective anticancer effects in patient-derived glioblastoma and xenografted mouse models without causing adverse effects on cultured normal cells and normal mice.

The helmet, invented by team member Dr. Santosh Helekar, features three oncoscillators that connect to a microprocessor-based electronic controller operated by a rechargeable battery. Dr. Helekar is an associate professor of neurosurgery at Houston Methodist.

This short video on the device explains the mechanism of action believed to cause tumor cell death without systemic toxicities.

The device targets excess reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cancerous glial cells. In a nutshell, it uses oscillating frequencies to alter the electron flow in the electron transport chain, disrupt the integrity of the mitochondrial network and trigger a molecular cascade that leads to the activation of Caspase-3 and apoptosis.

The dying cell then releases its toxic contents into the environment, causing the progressive death of other nearby cancer cells.

A leap forward in the hunt for less toxic, more effective therapies

Glioblastoma is the most common brain malignancy and almost always lethal. It carries a life expectancy of a few months to two years.

The standard of care consists of intense radiation and chemotherapy, which patients are frequently unable to complete due to their toxicity.

The late Houston Methodist patient, for example, underwent radical surgical excision, chemoradiotherapy and experimental gene therapy before agreeing to pioneer the brand-new helmet option.

The case study, co-authored by Drs. Baskin and Helekar along with research professor Martyn Sharp, Ph.D., and biomedical engineer Lisa Nguyen, was published in Frontiers in Oncology.