Researchers are testing a wearable device that could hold promise for newly diagnosed glioblastoma, the deadliest type of brain cancer.
A major clinical trial was carried out at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and more than 80 other institutions. Median survival of 210 newly diagnosed patients wearing the device was extended by more than three months longer (19.6 months) than patients who did not receive the treatment.
Patients in both groups received standard treatment of surgery and chemotherapy. However, 43 percent of the patients who wore the device survived for two years compared to 29 percent of the non-device wearers who also survived that long.
That may not seem like much improvement, but Dr. David Schiff at the University of Virginia Department of Neurology, and the study’s lead researcher, thinks this could be a game changer.
Glioblastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme or GBM, are difficult to treat. Since the 1960s, little progress has been made in extending patients’ lives.
About 10,000 new cases of GBM are diagnosed in the United States each year, according to a 2013 paper published in the journal Neuro-Oncology.
“[Because] this trial clearly shows an improvement both in time until the tumor starts growing but more importantly in overall survival. And if you can make a difference in overall survival, you're really doing something," he said in a university press release.
The portable device, called Optune, is a skullcap with electrode pads that are attached to a shaven head. A separate battery about the size of a small laptop inside a backpack powers the unit.
Optune emits low-level electrical fields that target dividing cancer cells in the brain. In the clinical trial the progression of glioblastoma slowed, according to the manufacturer’s website.
GBMs are fast-growing tumors generally found in the cerebral hemispheres of the brain, but can occur anywhere in the brain or spinal cord. Common symptoms include increased pressure in the brain, headache, nausea, vomiting and drowsiness, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.