Liver cancer patients find new hope in targeted microsphere treatment pioneered at FIU


Dr. Seza Gulec, FIU College of Medicine professor and leading researcher in novel treatment of liver cancers

Listen to a WLRN interview with Dr. Gulec

MIAMI – May 7, 2009 – A novel treatment for inoperable liver cancer that delivers high doses of radiation directly to the site of tumors is extending and improving the life of patients.

 Known as Selective Internal Radiation Therapy, this innovative treatment uses millions of microscopic radioactive beads referred to as SIR-Spheres®, delivered via catheter, to target primary and metastic liver cancer while largely sparing healthy tissue.

Dr. Seza Gulec, an FIU College of Medicine professor of surgery and radiology/ nuclear medicine, is a leading researcher in the development of this treatment and was the first in the United States to use SIRT in combination with chemotherapy for the treatment of liver cancers.

 “We are essentially using the tumors’ blood supply to kill them, by infusing them with beta radiation through the targeted delivery of yttrium 90 resin microspheres,” said Gulec, who has continued to advance this radiomicrosphere therapy for liver cancer since joining FIU College of Medicine in August 2008. “With this approach, we are able to use a much higher dose of radiation to effectively reduce the size and activity of cancer tumors in the liver. From my experience of treating more than 200 patients, all have responded positively to this treatment with some patients leading longer lives.”

 Clinical trials have confirmed that liver cancer patients treated with SIR-Spheres microspheres have response rates higher than with other forms of treatment. In a recently completed clinical trial, reported on in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine, SIRT combined with chemotherapy was shown to be superior to chemotherapy alone in patients with colorectal cancer liver metastases.

 “Of the nearly 150,000 Americans diagnosed with colorectal cancer every year, at least 60 percent will see their cancer spread to the liver,” said Dr. John Rock, founding dean and senior vice president for medical affairs for FIU College of Medicine. “That makes Dr. Gulec’s advancements in the field of radiomicrosphere therapy an incredibly important step forward in cancer research.”

 The new approach is also used to treat pancreatic cancer patients who have recurrent disease and liver metastases and incorporates Selective External Radiation Treatment. The safety and efficacy of combining systemic chemotherapy with SIRT and external beam TomoTherapy for surgically untreatable pancreatic cancer was just reported in the Journal of Interventional Oncology.

 “It is essential that we continue conducting clinical trials combining SIRT with chemotherapy and other liver-directed treatment modalities to perfect this treatment,” Gulec said.. “Radiomicrosphere therapy is increasingly considered earlier in the course of treatment as opposed to a last resort. But, there is also a need for the development of more uniform patient selection criteria for treatment planning and execution.”

 In fall 2008, Gulec and his team of FIU researchers, based at Jackson North Medical Center, were the first in the country to begin implementing an advanced 3-modality/3-dimensional treatment planning for SIRT. Since the FDA granted SIR-Spheres microspheres pre-market approval in March 2002, more than 1,800 treatments have been performed at more than 50 U.S.-based oncology centers, reports Sirtex, developer of the SIR-Spheres.

 According to FIU President Modesto A. Maidique, “South Florida is already benefitting from the research and medical innovation we promised to deliver through the establishment of the FIU College of Medicine. As one of the few medical institutions actively researching and applying this cutting-edge cancer treatment in the United States, FIU’s College of Medicine is on its way to becoming one of the country’s leading research centers.”


Media Contacts: Lilyvania Mikulski, 305-448-3425 or Madeline Baró, 305-348-2234


About FIU:

Florida International University was founded in 1965 and is Miami’s only public research university. With a student body of more than 38,000, FIU graduates more Hispanics than any other university in the country. Its 17 colleges and schools offer more than 200 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in fields such as engineering, international relations and law. FIU has been classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a “High Research Activity University.” In 2006 FIU was authorized to establish a medical school, which will welcome its first class in 2009. FIU’s College of Law recently received accreditation in the fastest time allowed by the American Bar Association.