WEDNESDAY, Feb. 24, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Laser surgery can open the protective blood-brain barrier, enabling chemotherapy drugs to reach brain tumors, according to a new, small study.
The new technique might improve treatment of brain cancer, neurosurgeons at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis said in a university news release.
"The laser treatment kept the blood-brain barrier open for four to six weeks, providing us with a therapeutic window of opportunity to deliver chemotherapy drugs to the patients," explained study co-corresponding author Dr. Eric Leuthardt, a professor of neurosurgery.
"This is crucial because most chemotherapy drugs can't get past the protective barrier, greatly limiting treatment options for patients with brain tumors," he said.
The study included 14 patients with glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer. The patients had already received treatment, but underwent laser surgery to treat tumors that had returned.
The researchers said they were surprised to find that the laser therapy penetrated the protective blood-brain barrier.
"We are closely following patients in the trial," Leuthardt said. "Our early results indicate that the patients are doing much better on average, in terms of survival and clinical outcomes, than what we would expect. We are encouraged but very cautious because additional patients need to be evaluated before we can draw firm conclusions."
The study was published online Feb. 24 in the journal PLoS One.
The minimally invasive laser technology used in the study is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat brain tumors. The researchers said this is the first study to show that it can make an opening in the blood-brain barrier.
Glioblastoma is among the most difficult cancers to treat, and most patients survive just 15 months, according to the American Cancer Society.
This pilot study is part of a larger phase 2 clinical trial that will include a total of 40 patients.
"We are hopeful this technology opens new avenues to treating these devastating brain tumors that cause great suffering for patients and their families," Leuthardt said.
The American Brain Tumor Association has more about glioblastoma.