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UMass scientist eyes stopping tumors with bubbles

By Thomas Caywood

A University of Massachusetts-Lowell biologist studying Alzheimer's disease may have stumbled on a potentially revolutionary treatment for brain tumors. 

Thomas Shea and a pair of colleagues have been experimenting with microscopic bubbles filled with antioxidants, compounds that have long been known to prevent cell damage.

``The problem with antioxidants is getting all the antioxidants to the right place at the right time,'' Shea said. ``Vitamin pills just go right through the body.''

The researchers have devised a way to load antioxidants into nanospheres, tiny structures something like a soap bubble. A fluid of nanospheres injected into brain tumors in mice had an immediate effect.

``We completely stopped the tumor growth in a day,'' Shea said.

There's much work to be done before human trials can begin, he cautioned, but the work has attracted the attention of the National Institute of Health, which awarded the researchers a $170,000 grant. Shea also has been invited to speak to a scientific panel at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Shea's work has been focused on neuroblastoma, a kind of brain tumor most often found in children. While looking into how antioxidants might slow neurological degeneration caused by aging, the researchers began to wonder if they also could halt the growth of tumors caused by neuroblastoma.