Sunday, May 4, 2008

Canadian-born doctor's vaccine fights brain cancer

Canadian-born doctor's vaccine fights brain cancer

Updated Sun. May. 4 2008 11:38 PM ET News Staff

It's a type of aggressive and incurable brain cancer that strikes about 20,000 people a year, but a Canadian-born scientist is working on a vaccine - and the early results are promising.

The cancer is called glioblastoma multiforme and few patients survive more than a year after its diagnosis. But Dr. John Sampson's vaccine is helping people survive for three to six years, unheard of results for this type of cancer.

"It grows very fast, some people estimate it doubles every 10 days," he says of the cancer.

Sampson is a neurosurgeon at Duke University in North Carolina. He says his passion is finding a cure for the nearly-always fatal form of brain cancer.

He says his vaccine works at making sure the cancer doesn't come back, after the tumour is removed.

"The vaccine consists of a small harmless bit of the tumour that educates the immune system to target the cancer cells elsewhere in the body," Sampson said.

About 50 patients have received the vaccine so far, including Ryan DeGrand.

DeGrand was given a year to live when doctors found a baseball-sized tumour in his brain.

After the cancer was removed, he enlisted in Sampson's study.

"It's a situation where you'll try anything really," DeGrand said.

Every month he receives an injection, and because the vaccine is designed only to attack cancer cells, there are no side-effects.

"The only thing I get after the injection . . . is some swelling in the area," DeGrand adds. "The vaccine to me is a way to stay the way I am."

It has now been four years since DeGrand's tumour was removed, and the cancer has not returned.

More studies are being planned on the vaccine and Sampson is looking into if his approach may also work with breast cancer.

With a report from CTV's Avis Favaro