Medical Minute 2-18: Brain Tumor Vaccine Report

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

Michael Wulfe shouldn't even be alive, much less running six miles uphill!

"Every time I do get to the top, I stop for just a second, and in my head, say a very short prayer that I am here on top of the hill, feeling like a normal, perfect, healthy person," said Michael Wulfe.

Michael was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor -- called glioblastoma -- nearly four years ago. Most patients only live 14 months.

"So far, so good!" said Wulfe.

Doctors believe Michael is still alive thanks to an experimental vaccine that targets this difficult-to-treat cancer.

"I think it's probably the most devastating cancer I know of," said Keith L. Black, M.D., Chairman, Department of Neurosurgery Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Los Angeles, CA.

With glioblastomas, surgeons can remove 99% of the tumor. The problem is what you can't see. Tiny, microscopic cells that are left behind multiply and resist treatments. Those cells are like roots of a weed -- the weed keeps growing if there's still a root.

"So, if that cell is left behind, then tumors can always grow from them," said John S. Yu, M.D., Director of the Brain Tumor Center of Excellence Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Los Angeles, CA.

The vaccine targets the root. Doctors draw a patient's blood and isolate something called dendritic cells. They then place special proteins on those cells and inject them back into the patient. The now "smart" cells ignite the immune system and tell it to attack the "bad" tumor cells.

"So, instead of going after the entire army, we're going after the general or the emperor," said John S. Yu, M.D.

Three vaccines are given two weeks apart. In a phase one study, the survival of patients jumped from 26 percent to 80 percent.

Michael was one of the lucky ones. He's still cancer-free and enjoying the freedom of the outdoors. Michael Wulfe

"You clear your head of everything. I'm a normal person, huffing to get air into lung and make it up the hill."

A man who continues to defy the odds with every hill he climbs.

BACKGROUND: Every year, roughly 8.2 people out of every 100,000 U.S. citizens are diagnosed with malignant brain tumors. Even worse, about 13,000 people die from a malignant brain tumor every year. Additionally, brain tumors are most common among males, resulting in approximately 55 percent of all deaths. Usually, malignant brain tumors grow at a rapid pace, taking over brain tissue and surrounding tissues in the brain. Glioblastoma is the most common type of s

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