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Health Team

Clinical Trial at Duke Shows Vaccine Fights Brain Cancer

Posted September 5, 2007 6:16 p.m. EDT
Updated September 6, 2007 5:36 a.m. EDT

— Vaccines are the front line of defense against viral disease but they have also joined the fight against cancer.

Duke researchers are using a vaccine to hopefully prevent recurrence of the most common and deadly type of brain tumors. As opposed to most other cancer treatments, the vaccine does not have negative side effects. So far, the trial has shown promising results.

In December of 2005, Pam Shelley had a car accident on her way to work near her Goose Creek, S.C., home.

"I don't know if I had a seizure or just blacked out, but I wrecked into a ditch," said Shelley.

It was the first symptom for what turned out to be a brain tumor. Without effective treatment her doctors said she might have only a year and a half to live.

"You can see that she had a very large abnormal mass in her brain," said Dr. John Sampson, a neurosurgeon at Duke.

Dr. Sampson said it was the most common and aggressive type of brain cancer, a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). Typically, surgery is unable to remove all (GBM) cancer.

"There's fingers of this tumor that extend throughout the brain," said Dr. Sampson.

Beyond surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, a Duke clinical trail offered Shelley a new, non-toxic option.

"There's a virus that probably is growing inside of these tumors and just like the new vaccine for cervical cancer, we can target that virus and hopefully eliminate the tumor," said Dr. Sampson.

The vaccine teaches the body's systems to hunt down the cancer cells in the brain. It is still early in the trail, but the results are positive.

"The patients who are on this trial are living a lot longer than we would have expected," said Dr. Sampson.

Dr. Sampson said after three to six months, Shelley's tumor was shrinking.

"Now, the tumor has essentially gone away as far as we can tell radio-graphically," said
Dr. Sampson.

"I went back to work in April, so everything is really going well. So far, so good," said Shelley.

Shelley will come back to Duke for monthly boosters and brain scans to make sure the cancer has not returned.

Dr. Sampson said that it is not known how often the booster vaccines are really needed, but monthly is the safest bet.