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Computers Help Provide Cancer-Fighting Drugs To Brain

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DURHAM, N.C. — A new way to treat deadly brain tumors is giving hope to patients once given only a short time to live. Doctors at Duke send cancer-fighting drugs directly into the brain through catheters guided by computers.

Just as Meredith and Keith Hansen celebrated the birth of a healthy baby boy, she learned a deadly cancer was growing in her brain.

"I was floored. The whole thing, I kept thinking was, you know, I wanted to be there for my husband and for my son," she said.

Tumors like Meredith's wrap themselves around healthy tissue, making it impossible for surgeons to remove it all. Most patients die within a year of diagnosis, but the Duke Brain Tumor Center offered a promising therapy.

"This has really been dramatic, where we have a long trail of patients that have survived two, three, four, five times longer than we would have otherwise expected," Sampson said.

The blood/brain barrier often blocks chemotherapy delivered intravenously, so doctors pump a potent cancer-fighting drug directly into the brain tumor cavity to kill any remaining cancer cells.

"We're not sending it throughout the body and hoping it finds the tumor. We're giving it directly to the tumor at very high concentrations," Sampson said.

The drug spares healthy brain cells. Patients have virtually no side effects.

"(There's) no pain at all. My head felt a little fuller, but they weren't really side effects. There was a good amount of fluid that went in but I couldn't tell," Hansen said.

A computer program shows the surgeon a three-dimensional model of each patient's brain, so they can guide the drug through a catheter to the precise target. Doctors cannot say how long patients will survive, but the Hansens said they now have real hope for the future.

"My biggest hope is to be able to bring him to kindergarten or first grade," he said.

Because of the targeted approach, surgeons are able to deliver 10 to 100,000 times the drug dose without harming the body.


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