Brain cancer antibody extends lives

January 27, 2009 8:38:15 PM PST
It's been eight months since Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer. Some doctors then estimated he would have mere months to live. But despite his seizure last week, the senator is reportedly doing well and seems to be defying the odds. So are many other patients- thanks to a treatment only offered in Philadelphia. Barbara Denny, 61, of Philadelphia thought she had the flu when she started feeling ill. Unfortunately she found out she had something much worse. Doctors found a stage four cancerous tumor in her brain. "The initial three to six months is what they tell you the survival rate is," she said.

But that was more than two years ago.

Denny was fortunate in that she could have surgery to remove most of the tumor and now along with chemotherapy, she continues to get injections of an antibody developed at the Wistar Institute.Doctors say it helps keep left over cancer cells from spreading.

Dr. Luther Brady of Hahnemann Hospital said patients battling brain cancer come from all over the country to Philadelphia for the treatment. "It's one of the biggest advances I've seen in my career- certainly it's one of the biggest advances in brain tumor treatment," he said.

To make the antibody-known as MAb-425- scientists pair a human cancer cell with a cell from a leukemic mouse. It creates an antibody to attack the cancer.

It's then attached to low level radioactive material and is injected through an IV. Dr. Brady said when used with chemotherapy, it extends the survival rate for patients. In fact, for stage three brain cancer, "fifty-percent of patients are now surviving 78 months where as before most of them would have been dead in 24 months," he said.

And for stage four, the most dangerous tumors, Dr. Brady said "Fifty-percent of patients live 28 to 30 months on the treatment, as opposed to 12 with no treatment." And there's no bad side effects.

For Barbara, the outlook is good. She said her faith and the treatment have helped her meet her two-year survival goal. And she's confident she'll meet many more milemarkers. "I'm going for three years, six years, and then 10," she said.

The antibody treatment is FDA-approved. Dr. Brady says they're working with pharmaceutical companies to make it available at other centers throughout the U.S. He cautions this is not a cure, but it is a major step forward.

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