Early proof-of-concept study produces encouraging results

Researchers have shown that electrical stimulation to the skull can starve brain cancers of vital nutrient-rich blood, opening the door to “brain zapping” as a new treatment for the often-fatal tumours.

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applies a low intensity electrical current to the brain via electrodes on the scalp and is being investigated for a range of disorders including depressionspeech loss after stroke, and the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s disease.

Home users have also taken up the technology in the hope of bumping up thinking power or improving gaming skills.

It has not, however, been used for brain tumours.

A team from Harvard Medical School, US, and Italy’s University of Siena enrolled eight patients for the recent study. Six had glioblastomas – tumours that grow from the brain tissue itself – and two had metastatic cancers that had spread from the lung.

Even with the gold standard treatments of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the outlook is grim for both types of cancer. Median survival is around 12 months.

The researchers, led by Harvard’s Emiliano Santarnecchi, used brain scans to map the tumour and guide placement of scalp electrodes with the aim of maximising current to the cancer and minimising effects on the surrounding brain.

Each patient then had 20 minutes of tDCS while in a functional MRI scanner, which can monitor blood flow in the brain.

For such a brief intervention, the results were dramatic.

Read the full story in Cosmos magazine here