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Fine Fibers Spun to Deliver Brain Tumor Treatments

Electrospun fibers

Electrospun fibers used to deliver chemotherapy to brain tumors (Joseph Fuqua, Univ of Cincinnati)

3 Dec. 2019. A process for spinning thin polymer fibers loaded with chemotherapy drugs is shown in tests with lab animals to deliver treatments directly to brain tumors. Researchers from University of Cincinnati in Ohio and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore describe the process in the 29 November issue of the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers, led by Cincinnati materials science and engineering professor Andrew Steckl, are seeking more effective techniques for treating glioblastoma, a form of brain tumor. Glioblastoma is an aggressive cancer that affects astrocyte or glial cells supporting neurons or nerve cells in the brain. The disease is often difficult to treat, where usually the best hope is to slow progression of the disease with radiation or chemotherapy. Survival from initial tumors is typically 15 months and those with recurring glioblastoma usually survive for less than a year.

Chemotherapy for glioblastoma is usually given as infusions into the blood stream, for eventual delivery to the brain. “Chemotherapy essentially is whole-body treatment,” says Steckl in a university statement. “The treatment has to get through the blood-brain barrier, which means the whole-body dose you get must be much higher. This can be dangerous and have toxic side-effects.”

Steckl’s Nanoelectronics Lab studies techniques for fabricating nanoscale polymer fibers into biomedical applications. One of those techniques is coaxial electrospinning, which allows for spinning fibers into layers. This technique makes it possible to array the spun fibers into a core of one fiber material, surrounded by a sheath of a different material. Fibers configured form multiple materials infused with different drugs could allow for sophisticated drug delivery methods.

To treat glioblastoma, drugs can now be delivered directly to the brain, with the chemotherapy drug carmustine loaded into a biodegradable polymer wafer that surgeons can implant into the surgical cavity after removing the brain tumor. For this project, the developers of this chemotherapy wafer, Henry Brem and Betty Tyler at Johns Hopkins University, collaborated with Steckl on an upgraded fiber device to provide more uniform and longer-term delivery of the drug.

The device, in this case, is a disc of coaxial electrospun nanoscale fibers in a mesh infused with carmustine. The researchers implanted the drug-laden fiber mesh discs in lab rats induced with brain tumors, in three different tests. The different scenarios tested rats given the fiber mesh discs against untreated rats, or rats implanted with only the mesh, but containing no chemotherapy drugs. The tests also assessed the fiber mesh discs in rats with early-stage or advanced-stage tumors.

The tests show the coaxial electrospun fibers could deliver an initial short burst of chemotherapy into the brain, followed by longer-term sustained release of the drug. Lab rats given mesh discs without the drugs or no treatments lasted 11 or 12 days, while rats given the fiber mesh discs loaded with carmustine lived up to 150 days. The researchers also found no evidence of toxicity to healthy brain cells in the rats from the treatments.

The authors believe fiber mesh discs could offer new treatment options for glioblastoma patients. The team also wants to extend the technology by delivering multiple drugs from the fibers. “Looking ahead,” says Steckl, “we are planning to investigate ‘cocktail’ therapy where multiple drugs for the combined treatment of difficult cancers are incorporated and released either simultaneously or sequentially from our fiber membranes.”

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