For 18 years, Keith Black, M.D., from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has been searching for an effective treatment for brain cancer. While his research moves forward, he's helping patients live longer along the way.
Latest research involves an effective brain tumor vaccine.
Dr. Black says brain tumors try to hide proteins on the tumor cell surface that the immune system could use to recognize the tumor. By hiding these cells, brain tumors become difficult to eradicate. The first step of research strips these "hidden" proteins from tumor cells and then cultures them from a piece of a patient's tumor that's removed with surgery. Next, come dendritic cells. Dendritic cells make up a very small percentage of the white blood cells, but they are the most efficient cells for presenting foreign proteins to the immune system. After isolating the dendritic cells, researchers say, they essentially have developed a technique to put these proteins [that the tumor tries to "hide"] directly on these [dendritic cells] and allow these cells to present these back to the proteins to the immune system by giving these cells back under the skin just as a shot, like a vaccine.
Researchers say the killer immune cells then recognize it and divide into millions of powerful T-cells. Now, when they see the tumor with this protein on the surface, they will try to attack it and kill the tumor cell.
It sounds confusing, but it works. By giving this vaccine, patients are surviving longer. Early research suggests, when combined with chemotherapy, the vaccine increases the two-year survival of patients with grade IV glioblastomas -- the deadliest type of brain cancer -- from 5 percent to nearly 40 percent.
However specialist's newest endeavor is to inject the vaccine directly into the tumor of patients whose cancer has recurred. In the first patient vaccinated this way, the tumor appears to be at least stabilizing. Ultimately, researchers say they hope that they will be able to eliminate the need for surgery altogether by combining this strategy with non-invasive strategies of destroying the tumor and ... just putting these cells right into the tumor to allow the tumor to be eradicated.
Another research found that age matters when predicting length of survival. Hence Younger patients with a grade IV tumor will do much better than a 70-year-old with a grade II tumor, so there's something related to age that has a huge impact on the survival of these tumors.
Younger patients have more T-cells ... that can be called up to fight these tumors. That accounts for the entire age effect and the survival of these patients. We know that the immune system is really the reason why younger patients do much better with these aggressive tumors.