Health Check: Glioblastoma

Health Check: Glioblastoma. (WJAR)

New research shows that the polio virus may be effective in prolonging life in those diagnosed with glioblastoma, which is the deadliest type of brain tumor.

Dr. Steven Toms, a neurosurgeon at Rhode Island Hospital and the director of the Brain Tumor Program, explains why it’s so deadly, with an average life expectancy of two years.

“No matter what I do there's always some of the tumor left behind. Even when the MRI looks perfect, there are many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of tumor cells left behind,” said Dr. Toms.

"Glioblastomas are very difficult to treat tumors," said Dr. Alexander Mohler, a neuro-oncologist at Lifespan Cancer Institute.

He says chemotherapy and radiation have helped, but new research out of Duke University suggests the polio virus, combined with the common cold virus, may help prolong life in some patients.

"It's administered via what's called a convection enhanced delivery so basically they put a tube in the tumor and administer the drug,” said Mohler.

"What we're trying to do here is to hijack the body's own immune system so all of us, or just about all of us, have had our polio virus vaccines,” said Toms.

Toms says everyone has been exposed to the cold virus.

"So, what the Duke program is trying to do is to hijack the ability of the body to recognize some of the proteins out of the polio virus and the rhino virus to kind of light a fire under our immune system and say 'hey guys, come here, let's attack the glioblastoma cells where these viruses are being expressed after they were put in to the brain,” said Toms

This was a small study with 61 patients. One out of five had prolonged survival rates, but it's only one tool, says Toms.

There are other immunotherapies under review, and something called tumor treatment field therapy. The patient wears a cap with four sets of electrodes.

Those electrodes interfere with cancer cells when they're trying to divide and spread.

"I, personally have a couple of patients who are beyond 8 years right now with that treatment with no sign of disease," said Toms.

To learn more about glioblastoma, click here.

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