A new Tel-Aviv University study may offer hope to the tens of thousands diagnosed every year with Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive and devastating form of brain tumor. The disease, always fatal, has a survival rate of only 6-18 months.

Prof. Dan Peer of TAU’s Department of Cell Research and Immunology and Scientific Director of TAU’s Center for NanoMedicine has adapted an earlier treatment modality — one engineered to tackle ovarian cancer tumors — to target gliomas, with promising results.

Published recently in ACS Nano, the research was initiated by Prof. Zvi R. Cohen, Director of the Neurosurgical Oncology Unit and Vice Chair at the Neurosurgical Department at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.

“I was approached by a neurosurgeon insistent on finding a solution, any solution, to a desperate situation,” said Prof. Peer. “Their patients were dying on them, fast, and they had virtually no weapons in their arsenal. Prof. Zvi Cohen heard about my earlier nanoscale research and suggested using it as a basis for a novel mechanism with which to treat gliomas.”

“Unfortunately, gene therapy, bacterial toxin therapy, and high-intensity focused ultrasound therapy had all failed as approaches to treat malignant brain tumors,” said Dr. Cohen. “I realized that we must think differently. When I heard about Dan’s work in the field of nanomedicine and cancer, I knew I found an innovative approach combining nanotechnology and molecular biology to tackle brain cancer.”

Dr. Peer’s new research is based on a nanoparticle platform, which transports drugs to target sites while minimizing adverse effects on the rest of the body. Prof. Peer devised a localized strategy to deliver RNA genetic interference (RNAi) directly to the tumor site using lipid-based nanoparticles coated with the polysugar hyaluronan (HA) that binds to a receptor expressed specifically on glioma cells. Prof. Peer and his team of researchers tested the therapy in mouse models affected with gliomas and control groups treated with standard forms of chemotherapy. The results were, according to the researchers, astonishing.

“We used a human glioma implanted in mice as our preclinical model,” said Prof. Peer. “Then we injected our designed particle with fluorescent dye to monitor its success entering the tumor cells. We were pleased and astonished to find that, a mere three hours later, the particles were situated within the tumor cells.”

100 days following the treatment of four injections over 30 days, 60 percent of the afflicted mice were still alive. This represents a robust survival rate for mice, whose average life expectancy is only two years.