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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