WAUWATOSA, Wis. — A clinical trial in Wisconsin offers new hope to patients with a rare form of brain cancer.

Researchers in Wisconsin are using a chemical element to trick brain cancer cells and slow tumor growth.

What You Need To Know

  • Glioblastoma is rare but is the most common cancer that forms in the brain
  • Cancer cells rely on iron to reproduce 
  • The clinical trial uses metal gallium, which is similar to iron, but doesn't lead to cell growth

  • Pre-clinical studies at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin showed the treatment slowed tumor growth and reduced their size

Dr. Jennifer Connelly, neuro-oncologist with the Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin's Brain & Spine Tumor Program, said it's something you probably studied in science class, and now this simple concept is being applied to a complex disease.

Cancer cells depend on iron to reproduce. The metal gallium is similar to iron and can also infiltrate cancer cells.

"We are bascially tricking the cancer cell into bringing in what it thinks it needs, but it actually doesn't lead to cell growth," explained Dr. Jennifer Connelly.

Connelly is the principal investigator of the clinical trial at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin. 

Dr. Connelly pointed out, "in a rare disease like glioblastoma, where there's very limited treatment options, this has been a very welcome addition for patients."

Glioblastoma is rare, but it's the most common cancer that starts in the brain. The trial, which opened last year, is for patients otherwise out of options.

Sam Buckett had exhausted the standard of care when he entered the trial. He told Spectrum News, "I really didn't have anywhere else to turn."

He was diagnosed with glioblastoma ten years ago at the age of 33. Buckett travels to Milwaukee from the Green Bay area for treatment and finished the cliical trial last December.

The treatment uses oral gallium maltolate. Dr. Connelly said three sugar molecules are added, so it's absorbed in the digestive system. In pre-clinical studies researchers at MCW discovered it slows tumor growth and can reduce their size, according to Connelly.

Buckett's hope is to keep his tumor in hibernation for as long as possible.

"You just gotta feel lucky," he said. "I've had some people I've gotten close to over the years through online support groups that have passed away."

With two young daughters at home, that's all Sam needs to keep him moving forward.

The clinical trial is open for the next year and researchers are still recruiting patients.