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Electrospun fibres offer new treatment for aggressive form of brain cancer

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University of Cincinnati and Johns Hopkins University researchers used coaxial electrospinning to create fibres for brain cancer treatment (Credit: Joseph Fuqua II/ UC Creative Services)
University of Cincinnati and Johns Hopkins University researchers used coaxial electrospinning to create fibres for brain cancer treatment (Credit: Joseph Fuqua II/ UC Creative Services)

A potential new treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer adapts an industrial fabrication process for “sophisticated” drug release.

Offering a possible alternative to less-targeted treatments, the new method delivers treatment directly to parts of the brain where tumours have been removed through drug-containing membranes.  

The treatment was developed by researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. It was designed to treat glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an aggressive form of brain cancer. GBM is a common and extremely aggressive brain cancer, responsible for more than half of all primary brain tumours according to the American Cancer Society. Each year more than 240,000 people around the world die from brain cancer.

The researchers wanted to create a new treatment. “Chemotherapy essentially is whole-body treatment. The treatment has to get through the blood-brain barrier, which means the whole-body dose you get must be much higher,” said Cincinnati professor Andrew Steckl. “This can be dangerous and have toxic side-effects.”

Instead, the new process uses coaxial electrospinning to create membranes. The fabrication technique combines two or more materials into a fine fibre composed of a core of one material surrounded by a sheath of another. This allows researchers to take advantage of the unique properties of each material to deliver a potent dose of medicine immediately or over time.

“By selecting the base materials of the fibre and the thickness of the sheath, we can control the rate at which these drugs are released,” said Steckl.

The electrospun fibres can rapidly release one medicine such as pain relief or antibiotics for short-term treatment, while an additional drug or drugs for chemotherapy could be released over a longer period. The combination could create “very sophisticated” drug release profiles, he said. Unlike previous treatments, the technique could provide a more uniform dose over time, up to 150 days.

The electrospun fibre was used to create tablet-like discs that increased the amount of medicine that could be applied, lowered the initial ‘burst’ release and enhanced the sustainability of the drug release over time, the study found.

Chemotherapy using electrospun fibre reportedly improved survival rates in three separate animal trials that examined safety, toxicity, membrane degradation and efficacy. “This represents a promising evolution for the current treatment of GBM,” the study concluded.

The team plans to investigate 'cocktail' therapy, where multiple drugs for the combined treatment of difficult cancers are incorporated and released either simultaneously or sequentially.

The research was published in Nature Scientific Reports.

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