In Brief

The Optune, an electric cap produced by Novocure Ltd., has
shown in 5-year-clinical trials that, in conjunction with
standard chemotherapy, it can increase the survival rate of brain
cancer patients two-fold.

Wearable Cancer Treatment

A concept that seems almost purely science fiction may
actually be an effective therapy for combating
cancer. A five-year clinical trial by Novocure Ltd. provided
researchers with evidence that an electric skull cap designed
to zap cancer cells growing in the brains of its wearers
might actually work.

The cap, called Optune, is essentially a
portable power supply that works by sending an
alternating range of frequencies to the brains of cancer
patients. The frequencies produced by the device are
known as tumor treatment fields (TTFields), and they work by
disrupting the mutated cell division process that enables
cancer cells to grow. More specifically, the electric
charges prevent chromosomes (the genetic information
needed for cellular development) from lining up before
cellular division, making the disruption fatal to cells.
Patients are expected to wear the cap for at least 18 hours
every day, while also taking a standard chemotherapy
drug known as temozolomide. Other than a slight warming
sensation, the caps have not demonstrated any side
effects or interruptions to patient’s day-to-day activities.

It’s important to note that this treatment is only viable
with glioblastomas, which are tumors of the brain or spine.
The treatment only works in these parts of the body
because most cells in the brain are not dividing. That
means the electric disruption from the Optune cap would
only be affecting cells that are dividing
— meaning cancer cells.

The Future of Medicine

According to the data collected from a five-year, phase III
clinical trial held from July 2009 to November 2014, the
survival rate of glioblastoma patients improved from 5
percent to 13 percent—more than double the original survival
rate without the Optune cap.

The research trial involved 695 newly diagnosed patients with
glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
While the
medical community was excited
to learn the news, the
unconventional new therapy comes at a price of around
$700 a day. The good news is, many U.S.
insurers are covering the FDA approved caps. The company that
funded the research, Novocure, is also looking into a similar
form of therapy with aggressive pancreatic cancer.

While it doesn’t work in
as short as eleven days
, or solves problems with just a pill, the Optune cap is an
extraordinary piece of technology and yet another reminder
that we’re already living in the future.

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