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Tri-State researchers hope RNA technology could be treatment for brain cancer

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Posted at 10:59 PM, May 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-19 07:09:11-04

RNA technology has been used successfully in the battle against COVID-19. Now, local researchers are hoping similar technology can help fight some of the deadliest forms of brain cancer.

"This is hope," said Keith Desserich, co-founder and chairman of The Cure Starts Now. "This is an opportunity to really kind of open up a passageway and be able to kind of get at these tumors in ways we never have before."

Desserich lost his daughter to brain cancer 14 years ago, and since then, he's been fighting to make sure things are better for families around the world.

This technology is the sort of breakthrough they've been waiting for, he said.

"Five, six years ago we started also looking at some ultrasound models as they applied to DIPG, and what they're doing here is rather innovative," he said."

Dr. Soma Sengupta and her colleagues have combined that technology with RNA, proven effective over the years, but difficult to implement in the brain.

"The focused ultrasound with bubbles, that opens up the blood-brain barrier in a way where you can deliver the RNA package," said Sengupta.

Sengupta is the associate director of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Brain Tumor Center and a UC associate professor of neurology.

If a brain is a fortress wall, according to Sengupta, the focused ultrasound acts as a sort of Trojan horse. The method is more targeted, less invasive and gives new hope to those with inoperable tumors.

"To our amazement we saw that it actually works in mouse models of glioma, so cancers like glioblastoma, and also a pediatric brain cancer called medulloblastoma," she said.

In the future, Sengupta hopes, it will break down barriers in the fight against the deadly and aggressive cancer known as DIPG, which took the life of Mount Saint Joseph basketball player and research advocate Lauren Hill.

"For me, it's all about helping the other person. I lost a childhood friend to DIPG. I lost a lot of very dear patients," said Sengupta. "With everyone that I lose it's as if a little piece of me goes with them."

The ultrasound technology is already being used in clinical trials. Sengupta said the RNA therapeutics could be added in a three- to five-year time frame.

"It's nice to see," said Desserich. "It's, frankly, I think, it's a little bit of an honor to these kids, my daughter included, and that hopefully it's going to lead to that cure."