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GPS map-like technology could be used to treat brain cancer

It could ultimately lead to better outcomes for patients who typically only have months to live.

CLEVELAND — We use GPS navigation systems every day to travel to unfamiliar places, and now local researchers are using a similar technique to create ground-breaking cancer care.

It could ultimately lead to better outcomes for patients who typically only have months to live.

"Glioblastoma is one of the most aggressive brain cancers a person can have," explained Case Western Reserve University Assistant Professor of Bio Medical Engineering Pallavi Tiwari, PhD. "The treatment for the last two decades has not changed."

The clinical problem being addressed with this research is in the post-treatment setting. According to The Daily, Case's internal communications e-newsletter and website, a post-operative MRI scan can’t effectively discern whether cancer has returned or if the lesion has been altered by what neurologists call a "benign treatment effect."

The GPS navigation, or heat map, is able to guide surgeons where they should go for biopsy.

"Just by looking at the MRI scan if you can tell that this patient has a benign condition there is no need for a biopsy," Dr. Tiwari said, adding this helps prevent biopsies in patients who have a benign condition and makes biopsies for patients who need them more accurate. The cost per biopsy could be around $50,000. 

The hope is to leverage these machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to move the needle to have more success in treatment outcomes for patients.

"Where we can start to answer questions about which patient could respond to which clinical trial, which could have huge implications in the space because of the limited options that the patients have," Tiwari told us.

A $600,000 grant will allow for clinical trials using this technology in real-time at the Cleveland Clinic next year. With so many clinical trials happening right here in Northeast Ohio, Tiwari believes it’s important for patients to understand the research.

"The more information they have, the more informed decisions they can make going forward," she said. "That’s where, I think, it becomes important to get to know more about the research in this area."

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