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Format: 04/17/2014
Format: 04/17/2014


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Neurosurgeons hope compound extends lives

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

By Pohla Smith, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
John Rotella of Bridgeville began "losing names and what was going on."

Donald Marsh of Indiana, Pa. began having "dizzy spells and light-headedness."

Different symptoms but the same diagnosis: They each had a glioma, the most common form of a brain tumor. High-grade gliomas like theirs are rapidly progressive and often fatal.

The two also ended up having the same treatment at Allegheny General Hospital. There, with federal approval, neurosurgeons are studying a drug compound that makes it easier to cut out more of the tumor during open brain surgery, extending life expectancy.

Mr. Rotella and Mr. Marsh's surgeries were among the first 12 procedures done at Allegheny General since it got the OK from the Food and Drug Administration to do 50 of them.

The study is one of four early-stage trials around the nation to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the compound 5-aminolevulinic acid, referred to as ALA.

Taken orally three hours before open brain surgery, ALA turns into a fluorescent substance when it enters cancerous tumor cells. When seen under a special blue light, the tumor then appears red amid the white color of the brain. That makes it easier for neurosurgeons to see -- and remove -- more of the tumor.

"Before we would have left more stuff behind," said Matthew Quigley, director of the division of neurosurgical oncology at Allegheny General, the primary investigator of the study and one of the neurosurgeons doing the procedures. The surgeons and the two patients spoke Thursday in a news conference on the study's progress.

"The tumor is notoriously difficult to remove," Dr. Quigley added. "Things that look normal are very infiltrated with malignant cells."

Those cancerous cells are invisible even with use of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.

"The advantage of ALA is it makes the landmark of the tumor much more [visible]," said Khaled Aziz, director of the hospital's Center for Complex Intracranial Surgery, who is also performing the surgery.


To read more, visit the Post-Gazette website

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