A pediatric oncologist at Brenner Children's Hospital is evaluating whether a drug typically used to treat Alzheimer's patients will help brain cancer survivors avoid the learning and memory problems that are common after radiation therapy.
The drug, called AriceptTM, will be given daily for six months to brain cancer survivors who have received cranial radiation. Sharon Castellino, M.D., will follow these patients for six months to see if the drug can help prevent a decline in their cognitive abilities.
The Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest Baptist completed a successful pilot study using this drug in adults last year. The researchers decided to try the drug after observing that radiation-induced brain injury resembles Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia not only in the clinical symptoms but also in what is seen with brain imaging,
"We know that pediatric brain cancer patients are at risk for developing cognitive problems later in life," said Castellino. "They may have memory problems, low school performance, declines in IQ, behavioral problems, and these problems may lead to poor quality of life. Patients who receive cranial radiation as part of their treatment regime are at greater risk for developing these problems. We are hoping this therapy will enable them to maintain their baseline cognitive abilities and social relationships at school and at home."
Castellino and colleagues will enroll 35 patients, ages 8 to 17 years, in this study over the next two years. Patients will be asked to take a series of neuropsychological tests to establish a baseline of their cognitive abilities before starting treatment. Patients must have completed all therapy at least one year ago.
Brenner Children's Hospital treats about 20 pediatric patients with brain tumors each year. Over two-third of patients who are diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor will receive cranial radiation, she said.
"Cranial radiation can be particularly damaging to the brain if the treatment area is large," Castellino said. "The age of the child also plays a significant role in developing cognitive problems. Radiation therapy can stunt the normal development of a child's brain."
The $100,000 study was funded by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which seeks to inspire and empower people affected by cancer. Brenner Children's Hospital is part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
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