Treatment for Deadly Brain Disorder Transferred to Loma Linda University Medical Center

May 10, 1994

By David Gilbert,

Updated Information on the Web at Loma Linda

BERKELEY -- Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) has signed a two-year agreement to transfer its heavy-ion radiosurgical technology for treating a deadly brain disorder to Loma Linda University Medical Center's Proton Cancer Treatment Center. The technology targets the treatment of arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), abnormal blood vessels in the brain which can often, without treatment, cause lethal or disabling brain hemorrhages and seizures.

"This agreement will assure that patients with surgically inoperable AVMs will once again have access to heavy-ion radiosurgical treatment, the best available therapy for this potentially life-threatening disorder," said Richard Levy, M.D., Ph.D., lead scientist of the heavy-ion radiosurgery program at LBL. The program was curtailed in 1992 when federal budget cut-backs forced the closure of LBL's Bevatron, the accelerator used to generate the therapeutic beams.

AVM symptoms typically appear before age 40 and occur in otherwise healthy young people. It is estimated that some 300,000 individuals in North America suffer from AVMs.

"This collaboration, and many others like it, demonstrates that Department of Energy technology is making a difference in medical research. The benefit will be to help ease the suffering of those who have been awaiting treatment for this deadly brain disorder," said Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary.

The DOE's Heavy-Ion Radiosurgery program began in 1954 when the late Dr. John Lawrence first used proton beams at LBL's 184-inch Synchrocyclotron to treat patients with breast cancer. In 1980, the late Dr. Jacob I. Fabrikant established the AVM radiosurgery program at LBL, which has been led since 1993 by Dr. Levy. Under their guidance, and with DOE support, the program achieved international recognition. The closure of the Bevatron after treatment of some 2500 patients marked the end of nearly 40 years of pioneering radiation medicine research at LBL.

"Results to date for AVM patients treated at LBL have been excellent," said Dr. Levy. "Cure rates greater than 85 percent have been achieved with heavy-ion radiosurgical treatment of small AVMs, and with a low risk of complications," he said.

Patients will now be treated at Loma Linda's specialized facility, which is built around a mini accelerator. The accelerator generates beams that are transported through a conduit into one of four treatment rooms. Patients rest on a couch with their head secured in a customized mask and frame. With millimeter precision the beams are focused on the AVM to obliterate abnormal vessels and remove the risk of future brain hemorrhage. The actual beam treatment lasts less than one minute. Most patients are able to return to work or other activities immediately after the procedure.

Dr. Levy and Dr. James Slater of Loma Linda's Department of Radiation Medicine are coordinating this collaborative effort with Drs. Gary Steinberg and Michael Marks of the Departments of Neurosurgery and Radiology at Stanford University Medical Center.

LBL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California.

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