Can a vaccine cure brain cancer? An experimental study is underway nationwide and here at Overlook, and the results offer signs of hope.
By Alyson Black
Smallpox. Influenza. Polio. HPV. Could brain tumors be next?
Vaccines have been used for the longest time to treat and prevent some of the most devastating ailments of the human condition, and now physicians and researchers at 15 hospitals across the United States—including Overlook, the only participating hospital in New Jersey—are turning the fine points of their needles in a new direction, using an experimental vaccine called DCVax-Brain in an attempt to cure Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive and lethal form of brain cancer.
Leading Overlook’s study is Michael L. Gruber, MD, medical director of the Brain Tumor Center of New Jersey and clinical professor of neurology and neurosurgery at New York University School of Medicine. In his clinical trial, GBM patients are being treated with the standard therapy of surgery plus radiation and chemotherapy for two months. Then two-thirds of the study participants receive a series of vaccines—but because this is a blind study, neither Gruber nor his patients know who is getting the shots, created by combining tissue from the tumor itself with the patient’s own white blood cells.
Explains Gruber, “We’ve been using vaccines for years for polio, diphtheria, tetanus, so there’s a history—a body of research. The idea has been used successfully. This vaccine is intended to stimulate the patient’s own immune system to regard tumor cells as a foreign body, and work in overdrive to kill anything that shouldn’t be there. We’re trying to retrain the body; the patient is presenting with a brain tumor, so obviously the immune system did not work properly.” Although Gruber says that the study is too early in its progression to determine the full scope of its effects, short-term results have been promising; median survival rates for GBM are just 12 to 15 months, but clinical data have shown a median rate of 33.8 months (and continuing) for patients enrolled in the study. “We’re trying to cure some people and create longer remissions,” he says. “We want to help people live longer and improve their quality of life. This is a horrible disease that has proven resistant to other therapies. We have to press on. There is enough science behind it that it’s worth the effort. Eventually, I want to be put out of business.”
To find out more about the DCVax-Brain study or to contact the Brain Tumor Center of New Jersey, call (866) 618-3273.