An anti-cancer gel promises to wipe out glioblastoma permanently, a feat that’s never been accomplished by any drug or surgery. So what makes this gel so special?

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) have developed a novel gel that both eliminates brain cancer (glioblastoma) and keeps it from recurring. When they tested this anti-cancer gel on mice with glioblastoma, surprisingly, all the mouse models were cured of the illness.

“We don’t usually see 100% survival in mouse models of this disease,” said Betty Tyler, one of the study authors and a neurosurgery professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

A report from the National Tumor Society reveals that every year over 10,000 people die of glioblastoma in the US, making it one of the deadliest cancer types.

The JHU team claims that their gel is arguably the most effective glioblastoma treatment yet developed. Since it can stop tumor growth even in parts of the brain where traditional anti-cancer medications and surgeries don’t work.

What makes the gel so effective against brain cancer?

Currently, an FDA-approved brain implant called Gliadel is considered the most popular and potent glioblastoma treatment application. Professor Tyler who played an important role in the development of Gliadel in the 1990s suggests that during the mice trials, the new gel delivered results that are even more impressive than what is achieved with Gliadel.

This is probably because the gel-based treatment features characteristics of both chemotherapy and immunotherapy. It was developed by combining an anti-cancer drug called paclitaxel with an antibody named aCD47.

The former is a chemotherapy medication used in the treatment of ovarian, lung, and breast cancer, and the latter attacks macrophages (cells that promote tumor growth by protecting cancer cells).

During the study, the researchers first surgically removed brain tumors in mice and then filled the grooves that previously contained the tumors with the gel. They noticed that the gel didn’t allow any tumor growth further in mice brains.

Moreover, when the researchers tried to manually implant glioblastoma tumors in the mice, the immune system of the animals eliminated the implanted cancer cells without any medicine or therapies. The gel suppressed the existing cancer cells and enhanced the immune system in mouse models such that no new cancer cell was allowed to grow or multiply.

Surgery is a must for the success of the gel

Glioblastoma was completely eradicated in all the mice models whose brains received the gel treatment after the surgical removal of tumors. According to Tyler, “The gel is implanted at the time of tumor resection, which makes it work really well.”

Interestingly, the factor suggested by Tyler also acts as a limitation of this treatment as the gel has been found to not work well in the absence of surgery. For instance, when the researchers applied the gel directly to tumor sites in the brain of some mice (without removing the tumors), only 50 percent of those subjects survived.

“The surgery likely alleviates some of that pressure and allows more time for the gel to activate the immune system to fight the cancer cells,” said Honggang Cui, lead study author and a biomolecular engineer at JHU.

The researchers are now planning to conduct clinical trials using their anti-cancer gel. If successful in humans, the gel will revolutionize brain cancer treatment forever. Hopefully, the gel will put an end to humanity’s search for the perfect glioblastoma treatment.