The patients suffer from brain-tissue
damage called radionecrosis, a potential side effect of radiation
therapy for brain tumors. Although most radionecrosis patients can be
successfully treated with steroids, until recently those who are not
helped by steroids had only one other option, surgery to remove the
Now Dr. Gesell, director of the Division
of Hyperbaric Medicine, is treating the damaged tissue using hyperbaric
oxygen therapy (HBOT), which involves placing patients in a sealed
chamber and having them breathe pure oxygen at a pressure greater than
one atmosphere. Although it's not yet certain how this treatment works
on the damaged brain tissue, many patients have been healed completely.
Dr. Gesell and her team at University
Hospital's new Brain Radionecrosis Center are working with a two-year,
$450,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute and support from UH's
Neuroscience Institute to determine the mechanism and efficacy of the
If HBOT proves as effective as early
results indicate, the team plans to expand its study into a
multi-center trial that could lead to the establishment of hyperbaric
oxygen therapy as the first choice for brain radionecrosis patients.
"We've been treating patients with brain radionecrosis for over five years, and it appears to be working," says Dr. Gesell.
As for how it works: "We think the
increased oxygen at pressure promotes the growth of new blood vessels
into the injured tissue, helping the healing process. We've designed
this study to compare how well hyperbaric oxygen therapy works compared
with usual medications, and to find out whether the treatment really is
making these new blood vessels grow.
"If we can show that hyperbaric oxygen
therapy is better than medications, and understand how it works, we'll
be able to help thousands of patients every year who get radiation
therapy for brain tumors," she says.