Brain Tumor Vaccine

FRESNO, Calif.

Michael Wulfe shouldn't even be alive -- much less running six miles uphill.

"Every time I do get to the top, I stop for just a second, and in my head, say a very short prayer that I am here on top of the hill, feeling like a normal, perfect, healthy person," Michael Wulfe, brain tumor survivor told Ivanhoe.

Wulfe was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor -- called glioblastoma -- nearly four years ago. Most patients only live 14 months doctors believe Wulfe is still alive thanks to an experimental vaccine that targets this difficult to treat cancer.

"I think it's probably the most devastating cancer I know of," Keith L. Black, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said.

With glioblastomas, surgeons can remove 99-percent of the tumor. The problem is what you can't see. Tiny, microscopic cells that are left behind multiply and resist treatments. Those cells are like roots of a weed -- the weed keeps growing if there's still a root.

"So, if that cell is left behind, then tumors can always grow from them," John S. Yu, M.D., Director of the Brain Tumor Center of Excellence at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said.

The vaccine targets the root. Doctors draw a patient's blood and isolate something called dendritic cells. They then place special proteins on those cells, and inject them back into the patient. The now "smart" cells ignite the immune system and tell it to attack the "bad" tumor cells.

"So, instead of going after the entire army, we're going after the general or the emperor," Dr. Yu said.

Three vaccines are given two weeks apart. In a phase one study, the survival of patients jumped from 26 percent to 80 percent.

Wulfe was one of the lucky ones. He's still cancer-free and enjoying the freedom of theoutdoors. "You clear your head of everything. I'm a normal person, huffing to get air into lung and make it up the hill." Wulfe stated.

A man who continues to defy the odds with every hill he climbs.

Doctors say the vaccine has fewer side effects than traditional therapies because it activates the immune system and doesn't destroy it like chemotherapy.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at mhitchcock@ivanhoe.com

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