Advances Are Needed in Cancers That Threaten Patients’ Essence
THE SUMMER ISSUE OF CURE® magazine features an update on brain tumors, a topic that has many connotations because of the aggressive nature of many types of brain cancers, but also because of the special organ this condition affects.
BY Debu Tripathy, M.D.
PUBLISHED August 06, 2017
THE SUMMER ISSUE OF CURE® magazine features an update on brain tumors, a topic that has many connotations because of the aggressive nature of many types of brain cancers, but also because of the special organ this condition affects. The brain controls our thoughts, emotions and even our basic breathing and heart functions. It is a protected space, with a “blood-brain barrier” that excludes some toxins and drugs that may enter the bloodstream. Brain cancers and associated treatments may cause injury to the brain that can result in subtle or more profound effects that may affect the rest of the body, alter the ability to think clearly or even change one’s personality.
For these reasons, we place a special emphasis on any progress in this field, exemplified by our feature article on glioblastoma — a particularly challenging malignancy, and one where recent advances and future prospects are indeed welcome. Unique biologic targets such as a variant epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFRvIII), as well as unique antigens that can be recognized by newer immune therapies, are being explored. A recently approved innovative device worn on the head that delivers low-intensity electrical fields can specifically attack dividing cancer cells because of their geometry and polarity, generating an electrical current that damages DNA and spares normal cells. This Optune device could eventually be adapted for other tumor types: As we see repeatedly in oncology, a disease subtype of pressing unmet need will sometimes lead to a fundamental breakthrough that will eventually affect the treatment of other cancers. Reciprocally, strategies already approved in other cancer types, such as targeting of blood vessels that feed the disease and boosting of the immune system, have been translated through routine care or clinical trials into treatments that can work in different types of brain tumors.
There are several windows of opportunity that require advances in basic sciences — a key reason that our society must continue to invest in this area. We need to know more about the blood-brain barrier, how brain cells divide (until recently it was believed that no new brain cells were generated in adults), the nature of the immune reaction against brain cancer and many more details that will augment our knowledge network and can be translated into meaningful advances for patients with a diversity of malignancies of the central nervous system.
Professor of Medicine
Chair, Department of Breast Medical Oncology
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center