Researchers at Duke University believe that an experimental treatment has helped prolong patients’ lives. One of the University’s patients, Sandy Hilburn saw her life extended by 9 years.
Hillburn was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a vicious brain cancer with an average survival of about one or two years.
In 2006, Hillburn began an experimental cancer vaccine therapy at Duke.
The experimental vaccine is prepared by extracting a patient’s white blood cells and exposing the cells to a protein from a virus called CMV. CMV is found in glioblastoma cells but not in healthy brain tissue. The body’s immune cells are then able to detect the CMV and destroy the cancer cells.
The human immune system is particularly adept at attacking viruses; therefore researchers felt it would be a worthwhile to try to attack the tumor by attacking the virus.
Early studies of the vaccine did not work efficiently therefore a tetanus shot was added before the treatment. The idea was to create an allergic reaction and that allergic reaction would put the immune system on warning that it was to react to what researchers would insert next.
Six patients received CMV vaccine alone and survived an average of 18.5 months. Six other patients received a tetanus shot shirt, three survived an average of 22 month while two lived for about 5 and 6 years and Hillburn is still healthy 9 years later.
Hillburn continues to receive the cancer vaccine on a monthly basis.
The reason researchers are covering such a small trial is that glioblastoma is such a brutal cancer with limited options, over this new treatment provides a glimmer of hope. If it can be replicated in other institutions, it could become an important treatment.
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