Monday, May 01, 2006

Tentative progress against glioma

I know of two friends of mine, both exemplary individuals with young families, who've died young from glioma. It can be a difficult death, with incremental disability as the surgeons fight a delaying action against the ever-growing tumor. A nasty illness.

So any good news attracts my personal attention, even something as preliminary as this announcement. It may not turn into anything that's clinically relevant; these small trials are infamous for showing dramatic results that turn out to be illusory. It's noteworthy though for the text I've bolded below:
BBC NEWS | Health | Hope for new brain tumour vaccine

US researchers say their vaccine increased survival times for the 23 glioblastoma multiforme patients they tested it on by at least 18 months.

Only four patients went on to die from the cancer, the study to be presented at a meeting of experts in the US said.

... works by targeting a protein thought to drive the tumour's spread...

It uses an artificial form of the protein, which is found on the outside of 30-50% of tumours, to alert the immune system to its presence and attack it.

The brain is tricked into thinking the protein, known as EGFRvIII, is foreign, and fighter cells in the immune system are sent in.

Amy Heimberger, assistant professor of neurosurgery at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, said the vaccine was an easy-to-use "off-the-shelf" treatment that could potentially help half of all patients with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

She said results from the trial showed the vaccine significantly delays the progression of tumours until the cancer finds a new way to grow.

... when tumours did grow again they did not display the EGFRvIII protein
When I was a medical student in 1982 there was great excitement about using immunotherapy to fight cancer. Alas, it almost all failed, though I think there was limited success with some type of melanoma. The fact that the gliomas broke free in this study only after by suprressing this key protein is what makes this result interesting and more plausible than most. There's hope that a combination of modalities might result in real progress -- maybe years of good quality survival and possibly the occasional cure ...

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