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Dr. Bruce Researches New Ways to Deliver Chemotherapy Drugs to the Brain

It’s easy to get some things into the brain. Oxygen, for example, is welcomed right in. Nutrients also gain quick entry. But some other things, the brain might not want to allow.

In fact, a protective seal called the blood-brain barrier prevents most bacteria, toxins and drugs from jumping from the bloodstream into the brain.

That’s a good thing. But the downside is that the blood-brain barrier can also block drugs that fight cancer.

Now, this is great news when the cancer-fighting drugs are treating, say, a tumor in the liver. The blood-brain barrier protects the brain from most of the medicine and its side effects.

But when the tumor is in the brain itself, the blood-brain barrier serves less as a protector and more as an obstacle. Scientists have found that in some cases, if enough drug is in the bloodstream, a small amount of it can get through the barrier. The problem here is that a lot of drug in the bloodstream can lead to some of chemo’s not-so-pleasant side effects.

Enter neurosurgeon Dr. Jeffrey Bruce, Director of the Bartoli Brain Tumor Research Laboratory at Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, who has come up with a solution to this problem.

Dr. Bruce and his team are among the researchers working hard to find better ways to treat a brain tumor called malignant glioma. The amazing technique they’re using is called convection-enhanced delivery.

To perform convection-enhanced delivery, Dr. Bruce uses a computer to guide tiny tubes called catheters right to the site of the tumor. The catheters deliver medication directly to the tumor area.

So far, convection-enhanced delivery seems to solve two problems at once. It puts more drug where it’s needed in the brain. And the medications don’t enter the bloodstream and reach the rest of the body—that means no chemo side effects.

The results can be astonishing. In one trial of convection-enhanced delivery, survival rates after six months more than doubled.

Dr. Bruce presented these results to fellow neurosurgeons at the most recent Congress of Neurological Surgeons convention.

In his talk he explained more about several aspects of convection-enhanced delivery, including which drugs are best suited for it; how a tumor’s shape and size affect its response to this type of treatment; and technical hurdles and some ways to overcome them. He closed by speaking about the future of research into convection-enhanced delivery.

You can learn more about Dr. Bruce’s work with convection-enhanced delivery of chemotherapy drugs here and here.

Learn more about the Bartoli Brain Tumor Laboratory here.

Learn more about Dr. Jeffrey Bruce on his bio page here.

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