Cancer vaccine shows promise
An experimental brain cancer vaccine has been found to nearly double the life expectancy of some patients with the most aggressive form of the disease.
Karen Vaneman has glioblastoma, which usually claims its victims within about 15 months after diagnosis.
In addition to the standard surgery, chemo and radiation, Karen has been participating in a clinical trial for a brain cancer vaccine at Duke University Medical Center since august 2008.
She's clearly beating the odds so far.
"One of the most amazing things we've seen with this vaccine is several of our patients have now lived over five years from their time of diagnosis," says Dr. John Sampson of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University.
The vaccine targets a genetic mutation that fuels about a third of glioblastomas.
Those mutations are also found in other cancers, leading some to wonder whether the vaccine could do more.
"I think there's good evidence that it will," Dr. Sampson says. "This particular mutation that it targets in a highly specific way is actually present in a number of other cancers."
The fact that this vaccine is so promising in these small, experimental studies could also be its downfall.
The next step in the research is to launch a study that compares patients on the vaccine with those on a placebo.
Doctors say it's going to be very difficult to find sick people willing to chance not getting the treatment, especially when they see how well patients like Karen Vaneman are doing.
Those on the vaccine also went an average of 14 months before their disease progressed, compared with just over 6 months for other patients.
There were no side effects related to the vaccine.