Innovation in Action: TheraSphere Y-90 Glass Microspheres

June 16, 2022

Cancer treatment is one of the largest healthcare challenges facing the world today. Beset by a disease that comes in many forms and often requires some of the harshest treatments, healthcare practitioners are constantly searching for ways to treat cancer more effectively, with fewer side effects, and ultimately improve survival rates. These efforts are not limited to medication—companies like Boston Scientific working in the growing field of interventional oncology are on the cutting edge with technology like the TheraSphere Y-90 Glass Microspheres.

A better way to deliver radiation therapy for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (the most common form of primary liver cancer), the TheraSphere system attacks tumors through the blood stream. By making a quarter-inch incision in a patient’s groin or wrist, interventional radiologists thread a catheter into an artery, directly accessing the liver tumor. Once there, they push a personalized dose of irradiated microbeads into the blood flow with extreme precision. The beads follow the blood flow, lodge in the tumor, and deliver a very high dose of radiation over the course of about two weeks. After that, the beads become inert—the radiation never spreads. The tumor becomes necrotic and can be metabolized by the body.

In comparison to traditional radiation therapy, with significant side effects from the diffuse dose of radiation throughout the body, most patients experience few to no side effects from treatment with TheraSphere.

Dr. Riad Salem, chief of interventional radiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, shared his initial reaction to the therapy: “It was a huge revelation to me, when I performed my first TheraSphere infusion, that it did not cause pain. The patients didn’t feel anything. Some of them asked, ‘Have you even done anything?’”

The Boston Scientific team is now exploring how TheraSphere might be used to treat other forms of cancer. It has received FDA “breakthrough device designation” for the treatment of brain tumors, specifically glioma or glioblastoma, with the goal of creating a faster pathway for patient access in the future. Meanwhile, the team is also investigating safety and efficacy of the therapy for cancer in the prostate.

“As physicians, we’re always looking for the next big thing,” Salem says. “Certainly, when we saw this in 2000, this seemed like the next big thing. Persistence pays off, and now, some 20 years and 70,000 patients later, with FDA approval and large, randomized, phase-three trials showing positive effect, it’s confirming what we suspected: It is once-in-a-generation technology.”

Read the full story in Fast Company: An innovative method for treating liver cancer sets the stage to test on prostate and brain cancers

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