Grisham turns spotlight on futuristic medical treatment

 John Grisham.
John Grisham.

A new book by best-selling author John Grisham is giving new impetus to a handful of companies striving to develop what they say could be a trailblazing treatment for cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

The Tumor is a fictional account of a 35-year-old man with brain cancer who, a decade into the future, is treated with focused ultrasound - a real-life technology that is currently being researched as a potential cure for more than 50 diseases.

Focused ultrasound uses soundwaves to destroy damaged tissue deep within the body, doing away with the need for incisions or radiation therapy. It has been approved in the United States as a treatment for several conditions, including prostate cancer.

As a treatment for brain and other cancers, it remains a futuristic concept. Research is at an early stage and, with clinical data in short supply, American insurers have so far been reluctant to provide coverage.

But the book, which Grisham has released free of charge, could help developers to make a case for funding needed to take this niche technology into the mainstream, said several company executives and physicians.

"Having a world-famous author talk about it can only help raise awareness," said Dr Mark Carol, chief executive of Charlotte, North Carolina-based SonaCare Medical.

SonaCare has two focused ultrasound devices on the market, one to treat diseased cells in soft tissue and another to ablate prostate tissue.

Men using SonaCare's device as a treatment for prostate cancer had a nine-in-10 chance that an MRI scan would show no sign of a tumour after 12 months, according to a study published in The Lancet Oncology in 2012. (http://bit.ly/1ppfkHR)

InSightec, an Israeli company backed by General Electric Co's GE Healthcare unit and York Capital Management, has approval for different uses: the treatment of bone metastases and uterine fibroids, and benign growths in the walls of the uterus.

Dr Maurice Ferre, InSightec's chief executive, said inquiries from patients about the company's devices for the brain had increased "by a factor of a hundred" since the book's release.

Grisham is on the board of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, a non-profit organisation. The author of legal thrillers The Firm and The Pelican Brief says he was neither paid to write the book nor stands to gain financially.

Ultimately, the potential for focused ultrasound could expand beyond surgical oncology to the treatment of Alzheimer's and other neuro-degenerative diseases, said Dr Kevyan Farahani, programme director at the National Cancer Institute's imaging guided intervention branch.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Grisham turns spotlight on futuristic medical treatment'. Print Edition | Subscribe