LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A fresh infusion of $1 million in federal stimulus funds will help a Southland hospital test a new way to treat a rare and sometimes fatal eye cancer that mostly afflicts infants and toddlers.

The grant from the National Cancer Institute will finance a clinical trial of a tiny device that can be attached to the exterior of the eye to deliver chemotherapy over an extended period, said Dr. A. Linn Murphree, director of the Vision Center at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
Called the episcleral drug reservoir or “eye port,” the device is an 8- 10 millimeter silicone cup designed to hold medication for slow, sustained delivery to the interior of the eye.

“Currently, when we use I.V. chemotherapy to treat retinoblastoma in young children, we give high doses to ensure the medicine gets into the eye,” Murphree said. “Most of it, however, affects other parts of the body, causing nausea, a reduction in white cell count, and depression of the immune system.”

“With the eye port, we will be giving much less chemotherapy, but much more will reach the cancer cells,” Murphree said. “It also offers the promise of inexpensive treatment for thousands of children in developing countries who now die of this childhood eye cancer, because their families cannot afford traditional chemotherapy.”

He said the eye port is so small that the patient would feel little or no discomfort and it would not hinder normal vision.

“Children receiving chemotherapy could potentially return home wearing the device and avoid most of the complications of standard chemotherapy,” Murphree said.

Currently, doctors use drops and injections around or into the afflicted eye to provide chemotherapy. Those methods, however, deliver the drug for only a few hours. Several other “slow delivery” systems are being tested, but they all require major surgery and have a high risk of complications.

The Vision Center will partner with three other retinoblastoma centers to conduct the clinical trials: The Retinoblastoma Center of Houston, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, and the Scheie Eye Institute in Philadelphia.

The three-year grant will enroll 36 patients in Phase I, and an additional 24 patients in Phase II. Only patients with unilateral advanced intraocular retinoblastoma that have received no previous treatment will be eligible for enrollment starting July 2011.

The grant is part of an RC3 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant of $2.7 million awarded to 3T Ophthalmics Inc., which subcontracted with Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

Retinoblastoma is a malignant tumor that occurs in 1 out of every 15,000 live births and is curable if caught early, according to The Vision Center.

Among children, common signs of retinoblastoma include having a white “glow” or “glint” in the pupil of one or both eyes, and crossed or misaligned eyes.

Left untreated, it can be fatal or result in blindness. In rare circumstances, retinoblastoma can metastasize outside of the eye to the brain, spinal cord, and bones.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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