Discoveries deliver lifesaving results
David Williams had endured the surgical removal of a brain tumor as well as six weeks of aggressive traditional radiation and chemotherapy treatments. But a tumor regrew in his brain anyway. When doctors at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio offered him a brand new treatment, he said, “Why not me?” Today, he believes he was in the right place at the right time.
In March 2015, David Williams became the first human being ever to have a new radiation treatment implanted in the center of his brain tumor.
The technology, developed at the CTRC, uses tiny radioactive liposomes, or fat particles, only 100 nanometers across, inserted by the thinnest of catheters directly into a tumor. There they remain, radiating only a tiny distance, affecting only the tumor.
Andrew Brenner, M.D., Ph.D., a neuro-oncologist, is leading the clinical trial at the CTRC, and expects to start the second patient on the study within a month.
At his first follow-up appointment, Williams reported feeling great, and said he did not experience the side effects that one normally does after conventional radiation therapy. That technology must send its beams through healthy tissue to reach the tumor, and so must be limited in the amount of radiation it delivers.
“The technology is unique,” Dr. Brenner said. “Only we can load the liposomes to these very high radioactivity levels.”
The concept was developed by nuclear medicine physician William T. Phillips, M.D., and biochemist Beth A. Goins, Ph.D., in the Department of Radiology; and Ande Bao, Ph.D., a medical physicist and pharmaceutical chemist formerly in the Department of Otolaryngology, all of the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center. They originally thought of trying it in head and neck cancers.
But Dr. Brenner had a different idea.
“I thought it made sense to use it in brain cancer first,” he said. “The skull is a rigid structure” and the tissue inside is much less varied, he said, whereas in the neck and other parts of the head there are many different kinds of tissue and lots of moving parts. He worked with neurosurgeon John R. Floyd II, M.D., to apply the first treatment to Williams on March 10 at University Hospital, the teaching hospital of the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.
“It is exceedingly unusual for any major university or cancer center to take a basic science discovery from the lab all the way through the marathon of requirements and hurdles, and to then witness a patient receiving the treatment,” said CTRC Director Ian M. Thompson Jr., M.D. “This is a testimony to our dedicated scientists and physicians, to our institution's commitment to major advances in clinical care, and to so many individuals in the San Antonio community who helped make it possible.”