“It started as a leap of faith and ultimately turned into a miracle.” That is how Cheryl Hanson describes the experience traveling from California to Switzerland in order for her husband, Dr. Peter Baginsky, to undergo focused ultrasound treatment of his aggressive glioblastoma brain cancer. As we reported in March, Peter was the first person to have a portion of his brain tumor thermally ablated through the intact skull using focused ultrasound.
The treatment was conducted at the FUS Center of University Children's Hospital Zurich by a team led by Javier Fandino, MD, Professor of Neurosurgery at Kantonsspital Aarau, Switzerland and Ernst Martin, MD, Professor of Neuroradiology, University Children’s Hospital Zurich.
“We went into this knowing that it was a phase I feasibility study for safety, and not for effectiveness. My husband was a pioneer. He thought he didn’t have anything to lose. It was very difficult to find anything we could do about his deep brain tumors.” Cheryl said that the focused ultrasound treatment created “holes” where the tumor had been destroyed.
“There was no pain at all during the long procedure, just a sensation of heat on my head,” Peter said. “It was comforting to be able to communicate with the doctors the whole time—they repeatedly asked if I was doing okay. Afterwards, I felt great and hungry and it was wonderful to be met by my wife, daughter, sister, and niece.”
Cheryl shared that when Peter came out of the procedure with no major complications she and the family were overwhelmed with relief to see him doing so well. They realized that it was an amazing achievement – not just for them, but for medical progress. “It was bigger than we are. It felt like a very powerful and wonderful moment.”
Peter and Cheryl are now back in California, where he just had a follow-up appointment with his neuro-oncologist at UCSF. They are glad to report that the follow-up MRI showed no tumor growth or adverse changes related to the procedure. Peter is feeling good, stronger than before with much clearer speech. He is ramping up physical therapy to get him more active. While this news is very encouraging, it is important to keep in mind that Peter’s treatment was just to assess safety, and his clinical improvement is unexplained. There is no way to verify that the stabilization of his tumor on examination is related to the focused ultrasound procedure.
They would like to pursue more focused ultrasound treatment through another clinical trial, but the challenge is that most trials require growth of the tumor. They will continue to seek options. Foundation-supported clinical trials are open at the University of Virginia and Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle for patients with metastatic tumors located deep in the brain.
Cheryl is grateful to the team in Switzerland and the Focused Ultrasound Foundation for helping to advance the field and supporting brain research. “We are incredibly thankful that Peter had the focused ultrasound procedure and hope that it will help open up a whole new world in tumor treatment,” Cheryl adds, “We want to continue to be part of the crusade to make this a reality for everyone who needs it.”