Prognosis for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) and generally for diffuse midline gliomas (DMG) has only marginally improved over the last ~40 years despite dozens of chemotherapy and other therapeutic trials. The prognosis remains invariably fatal. We present here the rationale for a planned study of adding 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) to the current irradiation of DIPG or DMG: the 5aai regimen. In a series of recent papers, oral 5-ALA was shown to enhance standard therapeutic ionizing irradiation. 5-ALA is currently used in glioblastoma surgery to enable demarcation of overt tumor margins by virtue of selective uptake of 5-ALA by neoplastic cells and selective conversion to protoporphyrin IX (PpIX), which fluoresces after excitation by 410 nm (blue) light. 5-ALA is also useful in treating glioblastomas by virtue of PpIX’s transfer of energy to O2
molecules, producing a singlet oxygen that in turn oxidizes intracellular DNA, lipids, and proteins, resulting in selective malignant cell cytotoxicity. This is called photodynamic treatment (PDT). Shallow penetration of light required for PpIX excitation and resultant energy transfer to O2
and cytotoxicity results in the inaccessibility of central structures like the pons or thalamus to sufficient light. The recent demonstration that keV and MeV photons can also excite PpIX and generate singlet O2
allows for reconsideration of 5-ALA PDT for treating DMG and DIPG. 5-ALA has an eminently benign side effect profile in adults and children. A pilot study in DIPG/DMG of slow uptitration of 5-ALA prior to each standard irradiation session—the 5aai regimen—is warranted.
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