Sunday 18 August 2019

Irish experts working on tiny robots to fight tumours inside brain

Dr Michael Barros
Dr Michael Barros
Dr Sasitharan Balasubramaniam
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Tiny cancer-fighting robots may soon be available to search and destroy an aggressive form of brain tumour.

Irish researchers are hoping to develop the mini-implant which can detect as well as treat the cancer from inside the brain.

The experts at Waterford Institute of Technology hope it will revolutionise the care of patients with glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain cancer that can kill within weeks. They have teamed up with other universities world-wide for the €6m 'Gladiator' project which could see the development of the miniature device.

Glioblastoma multiforme accounts for up to 60pc of all malignant primary brain tumours in adults, occurring in two to three cases per 100,000 in Europe and North America.

The principal investigator and director of research, Dr Sasitharan Balasubramaniam, said that "currently, highly complex malignancies such as brain tumours have a very grim prognosis, despite recent progress in their treatment and management".

The device would work by teaming up with engineered cells, bio-nanomachines, which can find as well as work on the cancer internally.

Dr Michael Barros of Waterford's technology telecommunications, software and systems group, said: "Surgery for this form of brain cancer is very traumatic as the cancer is embedded deep within the brain.

"Gladiator aims to use wireless signals to control implanted bio-nanomachine engineered cells within the brain for sensing and treatment, and to send signals back to an external computing device that will determine the next best course of action."

The four-year project involves researchers from other academic centres across Cyprus, Finland, Norway, Germany, the US and Japan.

If the new device is developed and successful, it could substantially improve patient prognosis.

It also has the potential to prolong survival by minimising recurrences and reducing drug toxicity.

Researchers said that allowing someone to have longer life expectancy and productivity, shorter hospitalisations, and less dependence on staff and caregivers will have a positive benefit for healthcare systems.

The outlook for a malignant brain tumour depends on where it is in the brain, its size, and what grade it is.

Symptoms include constant painful headaches, vomiting, seizures, double vision and trouble speaking.

Treatment options to slow and control tumour growth include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation - but the cancer usually recurs.

It is a highly aggressive cancer and the main cause of death is reappearance of a tumour in deeper regions of the brain. This tumour is then resistant to further treatment.

Around 500 people are diagnosed with brain tumours every year in Ireland.

Advances in surgery and radiotherapy have led to modest increases in survival rates, but there is still a significant body of brain cancer research focusing on finding new drugs or combination treatments to better target the cancer.

Irish Independent

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