NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There is encouraging news for people with one of the deadliest forms of cancer as researchers say they’ve developed a vaccine to stop brain tumors from coming back.
It was a work day like any other for Donna Fabre, except she had a nasty headache on one side. It was bad enough that she went into the hospital for a CAT scan.
“They come back and tell me that I have a brain tumor,” Fabre told CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez.
Doctors said it was glioblastoma grade 4, a brain tumor that had pretty much the worst possible prognosis.
“He made it seem like, you know what, this woman probably has six months to two years,” she said.
Fabre had surgery to remove the tumor, but that almost never cures glioblastoma.
“We know that there were tumor cells left behind after surgery and these are the cells that are going to grow and why these tumors are incurable,” Dr. Joseph Landolfi, of the JFK Tumor Center, said.
When the tumor did come back, she had more surgery and got an ingenious cancer vaccine. All around the cavity where the tumor had been, surgeons used a tiny needle to inject microscopic droplets of genetically engineered virus into the brain.
Those virus particles insert a bit of genetic material into the tumor cells. That eventually codes for a special enzyme so that when the patient takes a pretty benign anti-fungal pill, it’s converted into a lethal chemotherapy drug.
“This is not a virus that we’re sending in to kill the tumor cell. What we want to do is make that tumor cell, or the tumor, a factory for making chemotherapy,” Landolfi said.
A newly published study shows that the vaccine nearly doubled the average survival in recurrent brain cancer. Better yet, patients like Fabre aren’t sick from the treatment. She and her husband have traveled the world during her therapy.
“There’s no nausea. When she’s on the pills, she’s tired. And I tell her slow down, take a rest, sleep,” husband George Fabre said.
The vaccine also turns on the immune system to help kill cancer cells which may be why Fabre is almost five years out from her initial diagnosis, almost unheard of for the type of cancer.
A large clinical trial of the vaccine is just getting underway.