Electron cascades battle brain cancer

Biotechnology and biochemistry

A collaboration between DTU and Odense University Hospital shall lead to a new type of treatment against an otherwise incurable type of brain cancer

As there is not yet any effective cure against the aggressive and fatal type of brain cancer – Glioblastoma (tumours from the brain’s support tissue called glia), researchers financed by the Independent Research Fund Denmark from DTU and Odense University Hospital (OUH) are exploring new avenues.

Researchers from OUH have previously developed a treatment, which is effective in rats. The treatment is based on a substance resembling DNA that releases destructive cascades of so-called Auger electrons as it decays.

“Cancer cells divide, and when they divide, they absorb a substance that resembles DNA, into their own DNA. We are kind of inserting a small radioactive bomb in the cancer cell’s DNA, and when it explodes, the DNA breaks, and the cell dies”, Senior Researcher at DTU Health Tech, Andreas Ingemann Jensen tells.

In the brain, only cancer cells divide, so healthy brain cells are not affected. The reason is the short range of the Auger electrons, which means they only affect the cells in which the decay takes place. This makes them extremely precise.

However, the problem with the “radioactive bombs” is that they only work in rat brains. Experiments by the researchers from OUH on pigs, whose brain is much more similar to our brain, show that they are flushed out of the brain before they are absorbed by the cancer cells. The goal is to develop a system, where specially designed nanoparticles distributes the DNA-like substance in the brain over the entire tumour, after which it is slowly released.

"We hope and believe that at the end of the day this will become a new and effective treatment against this deadly disease."
Andreas Ingemann Jensen

The researchers expect that this will prevent the substance from being flushed out of the brain, and that it also can work in human beings.

“We know from literature and our own experiments that nanoparticles can be spread across the brain. The challenge in this project is to make them tie the DNA-like molecules and at the same time make the tie unstable enough to release them at the right pace”, says Andreas Ingemann Jensen.

Comprehensive biological studies
The project is a collaboration between Andreas Ingemann Jensen’s research team and Physicist Helge Thisgaard, who heads the preclinical research department at OUH, as well as brain surgeon Bo Halle from the same hospital.

When the project is finished, the researchers hope they have a functioning nano-transport system for the promising cancer remedy. The next step includes comprehensive biological studies, and finally preliminary trials with treatment of humans, both conducted at OUH.

"We hope and believe that at the end of the day this will become a new and effective treatment against this deadly disease.” Andreas Ingemann Jensen concludes.