Electric Helmet Treats Brain Tumors

August 07, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Brain cancer patients at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) are among the first in the country to be treated with a high-tech device that bombards the brain with electrical currents to kill cancer cells and to help control brain tumors that might otherwise be untreatable.

Elaine Kiourtsis, 76, of Powell, Ohio, is one of the first patients to receive the novel treatment at the OSUCCC – James. A few months earlier, she was diagnosed with a dangerous type of brain tumor called glioblastoma. Following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, doctors gave her the electrical "helmet" she wears up to 18 hours a day that bombards her brain with electrical currents. At night, she plugs the device into the wall while she sleeps, and during the day, the device is powered by battery packs. Patients say the machine is silent and easy to use.

"The electric currents interrupt the ability of cells to divide, causing their death and tumor shrinkage," says Dr. Robert Cavaliere, a neuro-oncologist at the OSUCCC – James. "The studies that have been performed suggest that this therapy is equivalent to chemotherapy in terms of outcomes."

Glioblastoma, which is diagnosed in about 10,000 Americans each year, is both the deadliest and the most common form of primary brain tumor in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

Median overall survival time from initial diagnosis for patients with this type of brain cancer is 15 months with optimal treatment, and average survival from the time the tumor returns is only 3 to 5 months without additional effective treatment. The disease is widely recognized as one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

Novocure, a commercial oncology company developed the device, which uses Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields) therapy for patients with recurrent glioblastoma. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011, the device is being used by doctors at 15 clinical centers nationwide.

Cavaliere says the device has slowed the growth of brain tumors, and, in some cases, has been shown to shrink them. In addition, the electrical currents that kill cancer cells don't hurt healthy ones – and it can work just as well as chemotherapy, but without serious side effects.

Right now the device is being used only on brain tumors, but there are plans to test the technology on other types of cancer, says Cavaliere. While the device is being used only for patients whose cancer has returned, studies are also underway to see if it might work as an option immediately after diagnosis.

New treatment approaches for glioblastoma are desperately needed, particularly therapies that are less toxic, says Cavaliere.

"This is a novel approach that is less risky and has fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapies that we have been using up until now to treat these tumors," says Cavaliere. "Patients treated with chemotherapy frequently experience some nausea or vomiting and they can have problems with bleeding and infections, but we don't see those kinds of problems with this device."

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute strives to create a cancer-free world by integrating scientific research with excellence in education and patient-centered care, a strategy that leads to better methods of prevention, detection and treatment. Ohio State is one of only 41 National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers and one of only seven centers funded by the NCI to conduct both phase I and phase II clinical trials. The NCI recently rated Ohio State's cancer program as "exceptional," the highest rating given by NCI survey teams. As the cancer program's 210-bed adult patient-care component, The James is a "Top Hospital" as named by the Leapfrog Group and one of the top 20 cancer hospitals in the nation as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

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Contact: Eileen Scahill, Wexner Medical Center Public Affairs and Media Relations, 614-293-3737, or Eileen.Scahill@osumc.edu

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