Glioblastoma treatment approach shows promise

A new therapeutic approach might double or triple the survival time of patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer afflicting about 10,000 Americans every year. Most glioblastoma patients die within 15 months of being diagnosed. In recurring cases, the standard prognosis is particularly grim--with conventional radiation and chemotherapy treatments proving largely ineffective.

But new research--led by Duke University and funded by the National Cancer Institute--is based on creating an immune response to the diseased tissue, specifically targeting people whose cancer comes back. The trial is being conducted by John Sampson, a Duke University neurosurgery professor, and St. Vincent's Medical Center in Jacksonville, FL has been selected as the testing site. Dr. Kent New, the head of neurosurgery at St. Vincent's affiliate St. Luke's Hospital, calls it "the most exciting treatment for a very deadly disorder."

Participants will first undergo surgery to remove their tumor, from which a portion of the growth is saved for testing. Patients' white blood cells are then collected and combined with DNA from the cancerous tissue to generate a personalized vaccine that helps trigger an immune response to potentially shrink the tumor should it return.

"We think a significant reason these tumors are so hard to treat to begin with is they are so good at evading the immune system. Now, the theory goes, once patients receive the vaccine, the tumor will not be able to escape it as easily," New says. "Ideally," adds Sampson, "if this actually works, people could get personalized vaccines for this and other cancers."

- read the Florida Times-Union story