Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Drug attacks brain tumors


UC study experiments with IL-4 toxin

BY TIM BONFIELD
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        University of Cincinnati researchers on Monday reported dramatic early results from an experimental drug to treat a common form of brain tumor.

[img]
Annette Garrett is wheeled through the hallway at Drake Center by her daughter Tammy McEneny.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        On April 12, 61-year-old Annette Garrett became one of the first patients in the United States to try an anti-brain tumor drug doctors call an “IL-4 toxin.”

        The day she completed a four-day course of the medication, an MRI scan showed that Mrs. Garrett's tumor, which started out slightly bigger than a golf ball at 2 inches in diameter, had shrunk about 30 percent. Doctors said the tumor looked as if moths had eaten holes in it.

        “We have never seen a treatment that caused so much boring-out of a tumor this soon after treatment,” said Dr. Ronald Warnick, a neurosurgeon at the Mayfield Clinic and director of surgical neuro-oncology at UC.

        While Mrs. Garrett began about three weeks of physical and speech therapy at the Drake Center in Hartwell, the results of her treatment were presented Monday at a medical conference in New Orleans along with the results for a few other patients treated in Ger many and one treated in North Carolina.

        A few patients with smaller, walnut-sized tumors did even better than Mrs. Garrett, with as much as 80 percent of their tumors killed by the new drug, Dr. Warnick said.

        Mrs. Garrett's medical odyssey started in early 1998, when her husband found her on the floor at home having a seizure. She was eventually diagnosed with a malignant glioblastoma, one of the most common forms of brain cancer and one of the hardest to cure.

        Mrs. Garrett had tried chemotherapy and radiation, which slowed the tumor's growth but did not stop it.

        The new drug works by combining an interleukin-4 molecule with a cancer-killing toxin derived from the pseudomonas bacteria, a fairly common cause of pneumonia and hospital-borne infections.

        Normal brain cells don't ex press a receptor for IL-4, but the cancer cells do, Dr. Warnick said. Once attached to the cancer cell, the toxin kills the cell from the inside.

        So far, the IL-4 toxin appears to have no major side effects. But Dr. Warnick cautioned that the study remains in very early stages. Researchers don't know whether the surviving part of the tumor will start growing again, and they are still testing to see how much of a dose can be safely tolerated by patients.

        Mrs. Garrett said she has more energy and better movement in her right arm. When she goes home, she said she'd like to get back to her favorite hobby — gardening. “I just feel better,” she said.

       



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