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AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 28, Number 1, 2019


Exploding Shells Boost Immune Response to Brain Cancer

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For patients diagnosed with a certain type of brain cancer called glioblastoma, long-term survival is rare. Surgery can remove tumors visible to the surgeon’s eye. It cannot, however, take out the diseased tendrils of tumor cells that extend beyond what the doctor sees. While current immunotherapy drugs are effective for several types of cancers, they do not work on glioblastomas because the disease blocks white blood cells from entering the tumor.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego, however, figured out a way to combine FDA-approved ultrasound with engineered glass particles to boost the effectiveness of immunotherapy in glioblastomas. 

Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Andrew Kummel, his former doctoral candidate and lead author of the paper James Wang and their collaborators, including Clark Chen at the University of Minnesota Medical School, developed this highly effective approach for taking on glioblastoma. They created hollowed particles, called microshells, made of silica (glass) and filled them with near body-temperature fluorocarbon liquid—a type of highly volatile and inert substance that is FDA-approved as an ultrasound contrast agent. The scientists injected the microshells into glioblastomas in mice and used high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to blow up the shells inside the tumor. The shear force generated by the explosions ruptured the cancer cells to release tumor proteins.

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