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Format: 04/24/2014
Format: 04/24/2014


KDKA-TV: New Drug Could Change Brain Cancer Treatment

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

At the time of his surgery at New Years, 73-year-old John Rotella of Bridgeville had been having trouble coming up with words for about a month.

His family rushed him to the hospital. A brain tumor was found. The surgeons were going to take it out with the help of an investigational drug.

"Well, they said that it was experimental, a trial thing, they said how good it worked," remarked the patient's wife, Lillian Rotella.

He had a tumor called a glioblastoma, a brain cell cancer with a typical life expectancy with treatment of only one to two years.

While the biggest part of the tumor is quite apparent, there are often tentacle-like extensions that don't show up to the naked eye or even on MRI scans.

A technique approved in Europe helps doctors find these tentacles. Surgeons at Allegheny General Hospital trained with the pioneering surgeon from Germany to learn this new technique.

AGH is just one of four medical centers in the country with a research protocol using this special drug specifically for this type of brain cancer.

Three hours before surgery, patients take a drug by mouth called amino levulinic acid or ALA.

It goes into the rapidly dividing cancer cells and gets turned into a substance that lights up. This doesn't happen in normal tissue. In ultraviolet light, all the areas of the cancer, obvious and unobvious, light up red.

The surgeons cut until all the red is gone, as long as they aren't getting too close to crucial parts of the brain that control language, speech, movement and sensation. Instead of getting 90 percent of the tumor the ordinary way, the ALA helps them get 5 percent more.

"So far, all the cases we did we have above 95 percent resection, which is the best you can achieve with this type of tumor," says AGH neurosurgeon Dr. Khaled Aziz.

"Dozens of specimens which have glowed, which look perfectly normal under the surgical microscope, stuff that I would have left there, two months ago before I had this drug, all are tumor. Even stuff that doesn't show up on the MRI," AGH neurosurgeon Dr. Matthew Quigley emphatically testifies.

To read more, visit the KDKA website.


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