Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 3, 1994

Laterra Will Use 'Abortion Pill' for Research on Brain Tumors

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center and
Department of Neurology are prepared to begin a clinical
trial of the drug RU-486 for treatment of a type of brain
tumor called meningioma. Hopkins is one of several
institutions in the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group trial.
    Preliminary studies have shown that the drug, commonly
referred to as the "abortion pill" because of its use in
Europe to terminate pregnancies, could be effective in the
treatment of meningioma, a tumor that attacks the membranes
surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
    RU-486 works by blocking the hormone progesterone, which
is necessary for pregnancy. "Meningiomas are hormonally
sensitive and often grow dramatically during pregnancy," said
John Laterra, associate professor of neurology and oncology
and principal investigator of the study. He believes that
blocking the production of hormones may slow or halt growth
of the tumor.
    The treatment will be used on patients who have failed
conventional therapy involving surgery and radiation or who
are not candidates for standard treatment because of the
location of the tumor. Patients will take the drug orally,
once a day for two years, and will be monitored continually
for reduction in tumor size.
    Meningiomas comprise 15 percent of all brain tumors.
Approximately 4,000 cases were diagnosed last year. The
tumors grow slowly but can cause death or serious
neurological problems, such as swallowing disorders,
paralysis, seizures, vision loss and headaches, by placing
pressure on vital parts of the brain. Conventional therapy is
initially effective in 80 percent of the cases, but nearly 60
percent of patients suffer recurrences. 
    Dr. Laterra said RU-486 has been available from the
National Cancer Institute for several years. A number of
small single institution trials of RU-486 for meningiomas
have been conducted, but this is the first multicenter study.
   Dr. Laterra expects the drug to be equally effective in
treating both men and women. Pregnant women are ineligible
for the trial. The most common side effects of treatment are
fatigue, hot flashes, breast enlargement, hair loss and
nausea or other gastrointestinal problems.

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