Portable electric device found to slow and reverse growth of glioblastoma


A non-invasive, portable electrical device tested at the Hermelin Brain Tumor Center at Henry Ford Hospital along with other major medical centres around the USA, has been found to lengthen the lives of some patients suffering from glioblastoma, the most common and deadliest form of brain cancer.

The device proved to be so successful in early testing that an independent monitoring committee recommended cutting short the latest phase of its clinical trials and allowing all test patients to be treated with it.

“This is not a cure,” says Tobias Walbert, a neuro-oncologist and researcher in the department of neurosurgery at Henry Ford Hospital. “But these early results have been so impressive that we might be looking at a game-changer in the treatment of glioblastoma.”

The electrical device, designed to be worn at least 20 hours a day to be effective, weighs about six pounds (2.72kg), is powered by rechargeable batteries and is carried by the patient in a small backpack. It received US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 2011 only to treat patients with recurring glioblastoma, not first-time cases.

The manufacturer, Novocure, is currently seeking FDA approval to use the device on all glioblastoma patients. Marketed under the brand name Optune, the equipment creates low-intensity alternating electric fields, referred to as tumour treating fields, and delivers them through wires attached to the patient’s shaved scalp by four adhesive transducer pads that target the brain tumour. Individual placement of the transducers is determined by MRI scan. The clinical trials showed that the tumour treating fields reversed the tumour’s growth and killed cancer cells by disrupting mitosis, the process by which cells divide and replicate.

Research results were presented by the study’s leader Roger Stupp, chairman of the oncology department at Switzerland’s University of Zurich, at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuro-Oncology in Miami, USA. Data collected from the first 315 of around 700 patients included in the international clinical trials showed:

  •          Patients treated with both tumour treating fields and temozolomide chemotherapy showed a “significant increase” in progression-free survival compared to those treated with chemotherapy alone – a median of 7.1 months compared to 4 months;
  •          Those treated with both tumour treating fields and temozolomide also showed a “significant increase” in overall survival compared to temozolomide alone – a median 19.6 months compared the 16.6 months.
  •          43% of patients treated with both tumour treating fields and temozolomide chemotherapy were still alive after 2 years compared to 29% treated with the chemotherapy alone.

The only side effect reported by the researchers was irritation of the scalp where the transducers were attached. “These results are spectacular, a lot better and much more convincing than we ever would have dreamt of,” says Stupp.