New vaccine for brain cancer brings hope to those fighting the disease

Published: Nov. 7, 2016 at 4:26 PM EST
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Glioblastoma is the most common and most severe form of brain cancer and of the 12,000 new cases diagnosed each year, doctors say 10,000 will die from the disease.

In the fall of 2015, Margie Kruse was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of brain tumor.

"When I woke up from surgery, the prognosis wasn’t very good," said Kruse.

But Kruse qualified for a phase two clinical trial for a brain cancer vaccine called Survaxm, which is currently being conducted at Roswell park cancer institute in buffalo, where the vaccine was also developed. Kruse says her most recent MRI shows no evidence of the tumor.

"I’m pretty confident that at least for me, this is working," said Kruse.

Co-developer of the vaccine, Michael Ciesielski says the vaccine harnesses the power of the immune system.

"This stimulates your lymphocytes, white blood cells, t-cells, antibodies to hone in on the tumor and kill it using your body’s own immune system," said Dr. Ciesielski, an assistant professor at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Doctor Robert Fenstermaker, Kruse’s doctor and co-developer of the vaccine, says it targets a specific cell survival protein called Survivin, which is present in a majority of cancers, including glioblastoma.

"If you develop an immune response that attacks Survivin you can treat the tumor without affecting normal tissues to a large extent," said Dr. Fenstermaker, the chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Patients in the trial are receiving the vaccine along with standard therapy and so far, researchers say the results are promising.

"This vaccine has been absolutely a godsend," said Kruse.

Doctors say for many of the patients, there is no evidence of recurrence and those newly diagnosed with glioblastoma may be the best candidates for this treatment.



TOPIC: Brain Cancer Vaccine: Glioblastoma Breakthrough

REPORT: MB #4172

BACKGROUND: Glioblastomas, also known as GBMs, are tumors that arise from the supportive tissue of the brain. Because these cells reproduce quickly and they are supported by a big network of blood vessels, these tumors are usually cancerous. GBMs come from normal brain cells, therefore it is easy for them to invade and live within normal brain tissue. However, glioblastoma rarely spreads to other parts in the body. There are two types of glioblastomas: primary or secondary. Most common symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, and drowsiness. Depending on the location of the tumor, patients can develop a variety of other symptoms such as weakness on one side of the body, memory and/or speech difficulties, and visual changes. This tumor represents about 15.4 percent of all primary brain tumors and about 60-75 percent of all astrocytomas. They increase in frequency with age, affect more men than women, and about only 3 percent of childhood brain tumors are glioblastomas.


TREATMENTS: Glioblastomas can be difficult to treat because the tumors contain so many different types of cells. Some cells may respond well to certain therapies, while others may not be affected at all; this is why there are different approaches when treating a glioblastoma. One of these approaches is surgery; it relieves pressure on the brain, and it safely removes as much tumor as possible. Nevertheless, because glioblastomas have finger-like tentacles, they are very difficult to completely remove. This is particularly true when they are growing near the parts of the brain that control important functions such as language and coordination. Radiation and chemotherapy are also an option; they may be used to slow the growth of tumors that cannot be removed with surgery. Chemotherapy may also be used to delay the need for radiation, especially in young children.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY is conducting a trial for a glioblastoma vaccine under the supervision of Dr. Robert Fenstermaker and Dr. Michael Ciesielski. This vaccine harnesses the power of the human immune system by targeting a protein called survivin, which prolongs the life of the tumor and it allows it to survive when it normally should not. When this protein is targeted, the immune system picks up on it just like with a flu vaccine or other type of disease vaccine. Chemotherapy kills cells that divide the quickest, which includes healthy, normal cells; whereas, this therapeutic vaccine stimulates the lymphocytes, white blood cells and t-cells by using the own human’s immune system. Fifteen patients are currently enrolled in the phase two trial and Roswell Park is actively recruiting more patients to take part. If phase two results continue to show promise, researchers hope to begin the phase three trial next fall.

(Sources: Dr. Robert Fenstermaker and Dr. Michael Ciesielski)


Roswell Park Cancer Institute