New treatment increases the odds of brain cancer patients' survival

Each year, 22,000 Americans are diagnosed with brain cancer, with Glioblastomas being the most deadly types of brain tumors.

Even with current treatments like chemo and radiation, most patients live less than two years.

Now, a new vaccine is giving some the gift of time.

Michael Wulfe should not even be alive much less running six miles uphill.

Michael said, “Every time I do get to the top, I stop for just a second, and in my head, say a very short prayer that I am here on top of the hill, feeling like a normal, perfect, healthy person."

Michael was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor called Glioblastoma nearly four years ago. Most patients only live 14 months.

Doctors believe Michael is still alive thanks to an experimental vaccine that targets this difficult-to-treat cancer.

Dr. Keith L. Black, MD, Chairman at the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said, "I think it's probably the most devastating cancer I know of."

With Glioblastomas, surgeons can remove 99 percent of the tumor. The problem is what you can not see. Tiny, microscopic cells that are left behind multiply and resist treatments. Those cells are like roots of a weed. The weed keeps growing if there's still a root.

Dr. John S. Yu, MD, Director of the Brain Tumor Center of Excellence at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said, "So, if that cell is left behind, then tumors can always grow from them."

The vaccine targets the root. Doctors draw a patient's blood and isolate something called dendritic cells. They then place special proteins on those cells and inject them back into the patient. The now "smart" cells ignite the immune system and tell it to attack the "bad" TUMOR cells.

Dr. Yu said, "So, instead of going after the entire army, we're going after the general or the emperor."

According to Dr. Keith Black, three vaccines are given two weeks apart. In a phase one study, the survival of patients jumped from 26 percent to 80 percent.

Michael was one of the lucky ones. He is still cancer-free and enjoying the freedom of the outdoors.

"You clear your head of everything. I'm a normal person, huffing to get air into my lungs and make it up the hill," said Michael.

Michael is a man who continues to defy the odds with every hill he climbs.

Doctors say the vaccine has fewer side effects than traditional therapies because it activates the immune system and does not destroy it like chemotherapy does.


REPORT: MB #3258

BACKGROUND: Every year, roughly 8.2 people out of every 100,000 U.S. citizens are diagnosed with malignant brain tumors. Even worse, about 13,000 people die from a malignant brain tumor every year. Additionally, brain tumors are most common among males, resulting in approximately 55 percent of all deaths. Usually, malignant brain tumors grow at a rapid pace, taking over brain tissue and surrounding tissues in the brain. Glioblastoma is the most common type of stage IV, malignant brain tumor.

CAUSES: Genetic structure changes are most often to blame for the development of brain tumors. There are two primary causes for this: the structure may be in inherited or it may be caused by the environment. When genes are mutated or missing, abnormal cells are produced, thus resulting in the ability to multiply and produce malignant cells.

TREATMENTS: There are multiple therapies that can be used to treat malignant brain tumors. First, there is the option of surgery. The tumors may be surgically removed through a surgery called a craniotomy (where doctors open the skull). When the situation is life-threatening, craniotomies are the option doctors tend to use. However, with today's technology, doctors and surgeons are able to take a biopsy of brain tumors without cutting open the skull. CT scans and MRIs with contrast allow doctors to see if the tumor is benign or malignant.

Another option is Ultrasonic Aspiration and Polymer Wafers. Here, ultrasonic waves are used to break the tumor into fragments and then those fragments are suctioned out. Next, polymer wafers are inserted into the area where the tumor was fragmented. These wafers act as a form of chemotherapy for the now-fragmented and suctioned tumor.

Other options include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill any abnormal cells in the body. However, it also kills normal cells that the body needs. Radiation therapy is a process that happens over time. It is usually not a single-time treatment.
(Source: International RadioSurgery Association;

NEW VACCINE: Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles are studying a new vaccine to treat patients with brain tumors. They draw a patient's blood and separate isolate monocytes, which they make into dendritic cells in the test tube. Then, they place special proteins on those cells and inject them back into the patient. The smart cells ignite the immune system and tell it to attack the bad tumor cells. Three vaccines are given, two weeks apart. In a phase 1 study, the survival rate at two years jumped from 26 percent to 80 percent.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Department of Neurosurgery
Los Angeles, CA
(310) 423-7900

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