102-year-old Israeli first to try locally developed breast cancer treatment

IceCure’s cryoablation procedure – freezing tumors to kill them – has already received FDA approval for other kinds of tumors.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A 102-year-old woman became the first Israeli to undergo a locally developed new treatment for breast cancer that freezes the tumor to kill it, Channel 12 News reported Wednesday.

Louise Nion felt a lump in her breast while showering several weeks ago and immediately went to her doctor, who confirmed the nerve-wracking diagnosis. The usual solution – surgery – was not an option as she had had a heart catheterization, making an operation too risky.

Instead, Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva offered Nion an alternative procedure developed by Israeli company IceCure Medical Ltd. that is currently undergoing advanced clinical trials in the U.S. Called cryoablation, a unique needle is inserted into the breast that injects liquid nitrogen directly into the cancer cell. This creates a kind of ice ball around the tumor, which then dies and becomes absorbed into the body over time.

It is a procedure that can be done even in a doctor’s office.

“I agreed” to it, the still-sharp Nion told her interviewer, because “as a nurse, I’m not afraid.” Nion, who studied in Paris before immigrating from Tunisia to Israel in 1956, worked in her profession for almost three decades before retiring in the early 1980s.

Destroying tumors by freezing them “is a groundbreaking procedure,” said Beilinson’s director of imaging, Prof. Eli Atar. “It started being used successfully in other organs and has moved on to the breast.”

IceCure, founded in Caesaria in 2006, received FDA approval in 2019 for its non-surgical system to be used on both cancerous and noncancerous tumors in the kidneys, liver, ear, nose and throat. In its current ICE3 trial, it is treating patients with low risk, early-stage breast cancer and those not suitable for surgical alternatives – such as Nion.

There are other ways to freeze tumors, such as by using argon gas. According to Dr. Jason R. Williams, director of Interventional Oncology at the Williams Cancer Institute, in Atlanta, Georgia and Mexico City, IceCure’s Prosense system is better in two ways.

“First, the rate of freeze is much faster,” he said. “We know from studies this is important to enhance the anti-cancer immune response from cryoablation. Second, the cost per procedure is less, not only because you can achieve larger ablation zones with a single needle, but also because liquid nitrogen is less expensive than gases needed for the other systems.”

In April, the medical device company received the FDA’s “Breakthrough Device Designation” for Prosense. This designation means that its clinical trials will receive a priority review and, if the test results warrant it, rapid approval will follow. IceCure is also in the midst of testing its procedure on lung, bone and prostate cancer.

The success of the intermediate trials for the minimally invasive breast tumor therapy gives Nion a very hopeful outlook for years more of a busy life that includes, according to Channel 12, knitting clothes for hospitalized children and playing poker – for real stakes.