Electron cascades to help battle brain cancer

A collaboration between DTU and Odense University Hospital is intended to produce a new type of treatment for an otherwise incurable type of brain cancer.

As no effective cure currently exists for the aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma (tumours in the brain’s connective tissue called glia), researchers from DTU and Odense University Hospital (OUH) are attempting to break new ground. The project is funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark.

The researchers from OUH have previously developed a treatment that works in rats. The treatment is based on a substance similar to DNA that emits devastating cascades of so-called Auger electrons when it decays.

“Cancer cells divide and when they do, they absorb a substance similar to DNA into their own DNA. We insert a kind of small radioactive bomb into the DNA of the cancer cell, and when it goes off, the DNA ruptures and the cell dies,” says Senior Researcher Andreas Ingemann Jensen from DTU Health Tech.

It is only the cancer cells which divide in the brain, so the healthy brain cells are not affected. This is because Auger electrons have such a short range that they only hit cells in which decay occurs, making them extremely precise.

The problem with the ‘radioactive bombs’, however, is that they only work in rat brains. OUH researchers have conducted experiments on pigs, which are more closely related to humans, and in pigs the ‘bombs’ are simply flushed out of the brain before they can be absorbed by the cancer cells. The goal is therefore to develop a system where specially designed nanoparticles distribute the DNA-like substance into the brain throughout the tumour, after which it is slowly released.

"We hope and believe that this will eventually become a new and effective treatment against this deadly disease."
Andreas Ingemann Jensen

The researchers expect this will prevent the substance from being flushed out and thus that it may also work in humans.

“We know from studies and our own experiments that nanoparticles can spread out in the brain. The challenge of this project will be to get them to bind the DNA-like molecules while still making them unstable enough to be released at the right pace,” says Andreas Ingemann Jensen.

Extensive biological studies

The project is a collaboration between Andreas Ingemann Jensen’s research team, physicist Helge Thisgaard, who spearheads the preclinical research unit at OUH, and brain surgeon Bo Halle from the same hospital.

When the project is over, the researchers hope to have an effective nano-transport system for the promising cancer drug. The next step will be extensive biological studies and finally initial human trials, which will both be performed at OUH.

“We hope and believe that this will eventually become a new and effective treatment against this deadly disease,” says Andreas Ingemann Jensen.