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Electric 'Helmet' May Keep Brain Tumors In Check

High-tech device bombards brain with electrical current, kills cancer cells

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – August 2012 - A new electrical approach to serious brain tumors is giving patients hope when they might be out of other options. Doctors at The James Cancer Hospital & Solove Research Institute at Ohio State University are using a kind of electrical “helmet” to help control brain tumors that might otherwise be untreatable.

The device, called NovoTTF, is used to treat tumors known as glioblastomas. A patient with this type of tumor wears a cap, which has a series of electrodes that are taped to the patient’s shaved head.

“The currents then interrupt the ability of cells to divide, thereby leading to cellular death, and then leading to tumor death” said Robert Cavaliere, MD, a neurologist at The Ohio State James Cancer Hospital & Solove Research Institute. “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.”

The electrical field created by the NovoTTF device covers the entire brain and is designed to reach even the smallest branches of the tumors, without harming healthy brain tissue. The Food and Drug Administration has approved this device for the treatment of glioblastomas, after patients have exhausted standard radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Cavaliere said “As of 2012 we do not have a standard approach of treating these tumors, but the studies that have been performed suggest that, in terms of outcomes, this approach is equivalent to chemotherapies we typically use.”

The goal is to wear the device 18 hours a day, so most patients plug it into a wall at night and sleep with it on their heads. During the day, they power the device using batteries that are stored in bags or backpacks, which allow them to remain mobile and active. “It’s a quiet device, and very well tolerated,” said Cavaliere, “in fact, it doesn’t generate any noise at all.”

For patients like Elaine Kiourtsis, it gives her the freedom to do things that traditional therapies may prevent her from doing. Just by looking at her you would never know she is undergoing almost constant treatment for a serious brain tumor.

“It’s just like a little cap you’re wearing and you don’t feel a thing” said Kiourtsis “It allows me to do everything. We go to church and other places and it doesn’t interfere.”

“Interestingly patients are enthusiastic about treatments,” said Cavaliere.  “Unlike chemotherapies that people are not generally enthusiastic about, people are enthusiastic about this device,” he said.

Another benefit of using NovoTTF is fewer side effects.

“Patients treated with chemotherapy frequently experience some nausea or vomiting, and they have problems with their blood counts, which are things that control bleeding and stop infections. We don’t see those kinds of problems with this device,” said Dr. Cavaliere.

Kiourtsis says the device can get slightly warm at times, but she often forgets its even there.

“I think it’s fabulous, I think it’s in the future. It’s just unbelievable what’s going on” said Kiourtsis.

Right now the device is only being used on the most serious cases of brain cancer, but studies are underway to see if it might work as an option immediately after diagnosis.

 

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