February 12, 1996
Media Contact: John D. Cramer
Phone: (410) 955-1534
E-mail: jcramer@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu

A decade of studies with drug-drenched polymer wafers has dramatically changed the outcomes of brain tumor patients. Using small, time-release wafers that deliver an anti-cancer drug directly to the brain, physicians at Johns Hopkins are extending lives and improving the quality of life for patients.

"This is practical now and we're working to develop even more effective chemotherapeutic drugs," says Henry Brem, M.D., director of neurosurgical oncology at Johns Hopkins and a principal developer of the polymer wafers for a decade. "It may also be important for cancers in other organs."

Researchers from Hopkins and elsewhere will present research results about implantations and replacement parts for people from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 11 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Baltimore.

In October 1995, the Food and Drug Administration gave limited approval for the new polymer treatment system for patients whose malignant tumors had returned after a first surgery and conventional chemotherapy and/or radiation. In November, results of a European study showed that the polymers also extended the lives of patients as part of the initial treatment. Another U.S. multicenter study is under way for patients with recurrent malignant primary tumors.

The polymer wafers are put into the brain cavity left after a tumor is removed. As the wafers dissolve, they slowly release a drug at the site to kill remaining cancer cells.

Conventional chemotherapy exposes the whole body to the drugs, but only a small amount breaches the blood-brain barrier to reach the tumor in the brain. The wafers deliver the drug directly to the brain. This bypasses the bloodstream and the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from chemical fluctuations, and avoids the side effects of conventional chemotherapy.

While not a cure for brain cancer, the wafers can prolong patients' lives for several months with a good quality of life, says Brem.

-- JHMI --
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