Brain tumor heat treatment

Infrared light can destroy brain tumors without damaging surrounding tissue

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Brain tumors, such as glioblastomas, are among the most deadly and difficult-to-treat cancers, typically requiring open-skull surgery followed by chemotherapy or radiation. What if a brain tumor could be treated painlessly, without anesthesia, at home?

Stanford School of Medicine researchers have tested in mice a small device implanted between the skin and the skull that could do just that. The remotely activated implant uses infrared light to heat up nanoparticles that have been injected into the tumor — just enough to gradually kill cancer cells without damaging surrounding brain tissue.

In mice with brain tumors, 15 minutes of daily treatment over 15 days, as the animals went about their normal activities, was enough to significantly increase survival times.

“The nanoparticles help us target the treatment to only the tumor, so the side effects will be relatively less compared with chemotherapy and radiation,” said Hamed Arami, PhD, a former Stanford School of Medicine postdoctoral fellow who is now at Arizona State University. He is co-lead author of the study published in August 2022 in Nature Nanotechnology.

Unlike previous attempts at photothermal therapy, which required surgically exposing the tumor to the light source, the new device uses infrared light that can penetrate brain tissue to target tumors.

The researchers are confident they can scale up the device for human-sized brains. “In the next five years, we’ll be able to develop devices that can generate even more optical powers for deeper tumors,” Arami said.

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Nina Bai

Nina Bai is a science writer in the Stanford Medicine Office of Communications.

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