A polymer originally designed to help mend broken bones could be successful in delivering chemotherapy drugs directly to the brains of patients suffering from brain tumours, researchers at The University of Nottingham have discovered.

Brain tumours are the major cause of cancer-related death in children and adults up to the age of 40. Most relapses occur when surgeons are unable to remove all of the cancerous cells during surgery – something which can be particularly challenging in very young children and babies and by the very nature of a type of adult brain cancer called glioblastoma.

Although alternative systems for delivery of drugs directly to the brain have been developed, they are used infrequently because their success has been limited. This new drug delivery system is the first that can be moulded to the shape of the brain tumour cavity and the first to deliver several different drugs over a clinically meaningful period of time.

The Nottingham polymer formulation is made from two types of micro-particles called PLGA and PEG and has been developed and patented by leading tissue engineer Professor Kevin Shakesheff, based in the University’s School of Pharmacy. A powder at room temperature, it can be mixed to a toothpaste-like consistency with the addition of water.

The unique properties of the polymer lie in its ability to set into a rigid structure only when it reaches body temperature (37 degrees), a feature perfectly tailored for use in medical therapies. It was originally developed as a scaffold on to which new bone cells could be grown to speed up the knitting back together of broken bones.

“This is a very exciting development and holds considerable promise for the treatment of malignant brain tumours in the near future”commented Professor Grundy, Co-Director of the CBTRC.

In the lab, the Nottingham scientists were able to successfully demonstrate the slow-release properties of the material by placing paste loaded with three commonly used chemotherapy drugs into a solution of saline and measuring the quantities of the drugs given out by the material over time.

To establish whether the material itself is safe to use on patients in this form of therapy, they used it to create a 3D model onto which they were able to grow brain tumour cells and healthy brain blood vessel cells without any toxicity. They then simulated surgery on a sheep’s brain from an abattoir by moulding the paste around a brain cavity and warming the brain to human body temperature to harden the polymer.

The brain was then scanned using CT and MRI technology to demonstrate that it is still possible to distinguish the polymer from normal brain tissue on a routine brain scan, an aspect crucial for doctors when dealing with follow-up care for brain tumour patients who have undergone surgery.

The team also dealt with concerns that the material could disintegrate and release its chemotherapy contents too quickly during the subsequent radiotherapy which many cancer patients undergo following surgery. By placing the biomaterial loaded with chemotherapy drugs into a head cavity of a medical training dummy and subjecting it to the same duration and intensity of radiotherapy used for brain tumour patients they were able to successfully demonstrate the robust integrity of the structure.

The first clinical test, anticipated in 3 years’ time, will be to devise a multi-centre phase 0 clinical trial which would involve testing the therapy on a small number of patients for whom other clinical treatments have not been successful and would otherwise only be offered palliative care.

This story is reprinted from material from The University of Nottingham, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.