Using electricity to treat cancer

Patient Siyun Huang, right, wears an Optune device while talking with University of Cincinnati clinical research professional Alexis Brenner, left.

Leigh Vukov/UC Health

Electricity has formed the basis of many aspects of the modern world, from providing reliable light sources to powering household appliances and computers. Now researchers are studying how electricity can be harnessed as a treatment for certain types of cancer.

Kyle Wang, MD, explained that human cells naturally use electricity to align certain cellular structures, including materials called mitotic spindles, which are used for cell division and growth. To prevent tumor cells from growing, an alternating electric field can be focused on the tumor to disrupt this process.

Electric field therapy is being studied for a number of cancers throughout the body, but Wang said it has been particularly sought after as a treatment for glioblastoma, the most aggressive and deadly type of brain tumor. The treatment is delivered through a cluster of electrical arrays, a configuration of electrodes that resembles a mesh cap worn on the head, called an Optune device.

“These networks point electrical fields to the area of ​​the brain tumor,” said Wang, a member of the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center and assistant professor of clinical radiation oncology at UC College of Medicine. “It has been shown to actually improve the number of people who survive this disease.”

There is no set requirement, but Wang said that in general, patients are advised to wear the Optune device for at least 18 hours a day, the longer the device is worn, the better the results. are good. Although treatment via Optune devices is not necessarily designed to continue indefinitely, Wang said patients generally continue to wear the device unless it is no longer effective or becomes too bulky to wear.

Wang is the site’s principal investigator of a new clinical trial, called TRIDENT, which is studying whether starting treatment earlier through the Optune device will lead to better outcomes.

Previous intervention

Optune devices are currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for patients with glioblastoma following surgery and radiation therapy and concurrently with chemotherapy treatment, typically about three months after initial diagnosis. Wang said patients in previous trials who used the devices lived about 30% to 50% longer than patients who didn’t have the device.

In the TRIDENT trial, half of enrolled patients will start using the Optune device at the same time as chemotherapy and the other half will receive the Optune device at the same time as radiation therapy, approximately two to three months earlier than current standard of care.

“The idea and the hope is that by having the device earlier, and combining it with radiotherapy and chemotherapy, it can be even more effective than has been proven after radiotherapy,” said said Wang.

Treatment with the Optune device comes with none of the typical side effects associated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy, Wang noted, with the most commonly reported side effects being skin irritation and logistical difficulties.

“It takes a lot of care to figure out how to wear something 18 hours a day that needs to be plugged into a portable power source, but every patient who uses the Optune device gets a designated device specialist who makes sure they’re has almost 24/7 access to questions about how to use this device, how to take it with them on trips, and how to continue to live well using this device which has been shown to improve survival,” did he declare.

Impact of the study

Of 129 study sites around the world recruiting patients into the TRIDENT study, Wang said UC has been one of the top patient recruiters so far. UC has enrolled 13 patients to date, with the overall study planning to enroll a total of 950 patients.

“Here at the University of Cincinnati, we have a lot of experience with both this device and this trial,” Wang said.

Wang said it was exciting to be at the forefront of a potential treatment for a disease that has been difficult to treat for many years.

“It’s been a long time since something was invented that works for this type of disease,” Wang said. “It’s really gratifying to have patients looking for other options or, basically, reasons to be hopeful. I believe this assay and device is one of the most impactful discoveries for glioblastoma in decades.

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