Experimental cancer therapy extends woman’s life by 9 years

Photo credit: CBS News

The treatment may be experimental, but for one grateful woman its been a lifesaver. Sandy Hillburn was told she had only months to live after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer. That was 9 years ago, and remarkably she’s still alive.

Hillburn can thank cancer researchers at Duke University. Back in 2006, they gave her an experimental vaccine. First they took white blood cells from her body. Then they exposed the cells to a protein contained in the CMV virus, which is found in the glioblastoma cells.

Some patients in the study, like Hillburn, were then given a tetanus shot before the vaccine was administered. And that made a difference, as Dr. John Sampson, professor of surgery at Duke explains: “Because our immune systems are especially adept at attacking viruses, we felt it would be a great opportunity for us to attack the tumor by attacking the virus. The idea was that we could create an allergic reaction and that allergic reaction would put the immune system on warning that it was to react to what were we going to give it next.”

The patients who only received the vaccine did not live as long as the ones given the tetanus shot first. But so far nobody has survived as long as Hillburn. The other 5 patients who got the tetanus shot along with the vaccine reportedly lived anywhere from 22 months to 5 or 6 years. Those who just got the vaccine averaged about 18 1/2 months.

In reporting this story, CBS News medical correspondent, Dr. Jonathon LaPook, hopes that other medical institutions will be able to replicate the promising results.

CBS Evening News, 3/11/15

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