Radioactive antibodies on the mind

Injecting radioactive antibodies into the cavity left behind from the surgical removal of certain brain tumors, called gliomas, can extend a patient’s life span, according to a new study.

“Weeks matter in this disease,” says Darell D. Bigner of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center in Durham, N.C., where he developed the radioactive antibody. Patients getting the antibodies lived 30 to 40 weeks longer than patients treated with conventional therapies, Bigner and his colleagues report.

The antibodies home in on straggling cancer cells still present after the surgery and then zap these cells with a high dose of localized radiation.

Among 33 people with newly diagnosed brain cancer who received the new antibody treatment as well as standard radiation and chemotherapy, the median duration of survival was 86.7 weeks after diagnosis. As of now, 13 patients are still alive, reports neurosurgeon David A. Reardon, also of Duke.

“This therapy offers very promising and encouraging results for newly diagnosed patients, and we’re also looking at [the treatment’s] effect in patients with recurrent cancer,” he says.

The new treatment is harsh. The high dose of radiation caused irreversible neurologic damage in five patients and transitory problems in three others.

“Since antibodies don’t cross the blood-brain barrier, interest in using them for brain cancer had waned,” says Andrew E. Sloan, a neurosurgeon at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit. “This study, which seems more promising than other alternatives, has renewed interest in the field.”