Drugs already on the market are designed to treat obesity and diabetes by blocking the receptors. Robbins believes that the same drugs may be able to prevent or reduce the severity of cognitive impairment after whole-brain radiation.
"The drugs are available and we know the doses that patients can safely take," said Robbins. "If our theory is successful in the laboratory, this could easily be applied to patients. We know the drugs don't promote tumor growth, and in some cases may inhibit it."
This is one of several research projects looking for way to reduce the side effects of whole brain radiation. Robbins is also evaluating a blood pressure medication and a drug used to treat Alzheimer's disease as potential treatments for patients undergoing radiation. He has worked for more than 20 years on the effects of radiation in normal tissue.
Robbins' project is part of $4.5 million in research grants recently awarded to the Brain Tumor Center of Excellence. The goal of the center, which was formed in 2004, is to find better treatments and one day a cure for malignant brain tumors. In addition to its focus on research, the center provides a comprehensive program for patient care, and is the first center in the state to offer Gamma Knife stereotactic radiosurgery, a knifeless approach to brain surgery and radiation therapy.