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January 04, 2011

Healthcare Innovators Announce Clinical Trials for Brain Tumor Vaccine


In a medical breakthrough for brain cancer victims, researchers at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center revealed clinical trials for testing a vaccine treatment for brain tumors. Eighteen patients with low-grade gliomas, or slow growing brain tumors, will be the first patients in the world to receive this novel healthcare innovation and treatment.

“This study is looking at a very new form of treatment called a preventative brain tumor vaccine. The idea is to treat the low-grade glioma and to prevent it from growing back,” said Edward Shaw, M.D., a radiation oncologist, in a statement. “In this early phase study, we are looking to see whether the patient develops an immune response against this kind of brain tumor, a necessary step for the vaccine to work.”

The vaccine treatment was developed after years of research and collaboration between scientists at the University of Pittsburgh (UP) and Wake Forest Baptist. The vaccine was originally developed by UP’s Hideho Okada, M.D., Ph.D., who specializes in immunological therapy and gene therapy for brain tumors and is based in part on the work of Waldemar Debinski, Ph.D., director of the Brain Tumor Center of Excellence at Wake Forest Baptist, who discovered several of the glioma-associated antigens or molecules recognized by the immune system as foreign and targeted by the vaccine.  

Wake Forest Baptist has long been a leader, nationally and internationally, in the diagnosis and treatment of low-grade gliomas, and Dr. Shaw has led many research studies involving this type of tumor for the last 25 years.

The vaccine will be administered in a clinical trial structured as a bi-institutional pilot study and funded by the National Cancer Institute. Wake Forest Baptist and UP will enroll nine patients each. The vaccine will be administered to adult patients, who have been diagnosed and had surgery for the removal of low-grade brain tumors. Participants will receive the vaccine every three weeks for six months, as well as a simple blood test to determine whether an immune response has developed.

Dr. Shaw notes that while brain tumors are relatively uncommon when compared to other types of cancer, they are the most common cause of cancer death in children. Low-grade gliomas, in turn, are the most common primary brain tumors. These tumors often affect children, as well as adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Low-grade gliomas typically recur after surgery and radiation, and they may also progress to a higher-grade, more aggressive brain tumor. When that progression occurs, there is presently no curative treatment.

“If we can prevent the tumor from growing back or from transforming to a more malignant form, the hope is that we can cure more low-grade glioma patients,” Shaw said. 


Dr. Cronin is a Professor of Management in the Information Systems Department at Boston College. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jaclyn Allard

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