Patients with aggressive brain tumours could benefit from improved surgery outcomes by drinking a substance that makes their cancer glow pink, a trial suggests. For the trial, scientists gave patients with suspected glioma (a type of tumor that occurs in the brain and spinal cord) a drink containing 5-ALA, a substance that accumulates in fast-growing cancer cells and makes them glow pink. The hope is that the glowing tumours will be easier for surgeons to safely remove, as they can be more easily distinguished from healthy brain tissue. Glioma is the most common type of brain cancer and treatment usually involves removing as much of the tumour as possible. The prognosis for patients, however, is usually poor. Speaking about the trial, Dr Kathreena Kurian, study author and associate professor in brain tumour research at the University of Bristol, said: “There's an urgent need to have something while the patient is on the table, while the neurosurgeon is operating, which will guide them to find the worst bits. “The beauty of 5-ALA is that they can see where high-grade glioma is, while they're operating.” The results of the trial have not yet been published, but were presented at the 2018 NCRI Cancer Conference in Glasgow over the weekend. The next step, the researchers say, is to test 5-ALA in children with brain tumours.
The harmful Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes and causes devastating brain damage in babies, could be used to treat aggressive brain cancer in adults, according to US scientists. Up until now, Zika has only been seen as a major global health threat, but the new research could see it become a remedy. The scientists say the virus can be used to selectively infect and destroy hard-to-treat cancerous cells in adult brains. In mice studies, the Zika virus was seen to successfully shrink aggressive tumours, yet left other brain cells unscathed. While human trials are still quite a way off, laboratory tests show that the virus works on human cells, and experts believe the Zika virus holds a huge amount of potential. They say it could be injected into a human brain at the same time as surgery to remove life-threatening tumours. Some brain cancers are fast growing and spread quickly through the brain. This makes it very difficult to see where the tumour finishes and healthy tissue begins. As an extra precaution, the team from Washington University School of Medicine and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have already begun modifying the Zika virus to make it less potent than the regular strain. Researcher Dr Michael Diamond said: "It looks like there's a silver lining to Zika. This virus that targets cells that are very important for brain growth in babies, we could use that now to target growing tumours."