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Trouble the brain

posted by Susannah Breslin   Dec 21, 2015

If you’re interested in strange stories involving brain tumors, fecal bacterium, and Institutional Review Boards, Emily Eakin’s “Bacteria on the Brain” for the New Yorker should be right up your alley.

Dr. Paul Muizelaar, then chair of the neurosurgery department at U.C. Davis, undertook a daring approach to treating brain tumors. It might work, but would it help?

The previous month, he had operated on Patrick Egan, a fifty-six-year-old real-estate broker, who also suffered from glioblastoma. Egan was a friend of Muizelaar’s, and, like Terri Bradley, he had exhausted the standard therapies for the disease. The tumor had spread to his brain stem and was shortly expected to kill him. Muizelaar cut out as much of the tumor as possible. But before he replaced the “bone flap” — the section of skull that is removed to allow access to the brain — he soaked it for an hour in a solution teeming with Enterobacter aerogenes, a common fecal bacterium. Then he reattached it to Egan’s skull, using tiny metal plates and screws. Muizelaar hoped that inside Egan’s brain an infection was brewing.