Glioblastoma: Turning the Body Against the Brain


CLEVELAND, Ohio. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — One of the first signs can be a headache, but it gets worse—fast. The damage glioblastoma does is devastating, even deadly. It is the most aggressive form of brain cancer. The average person lives just 15 months after diagnosis. But now there’s new hope, using the patient’s own body to kill tumor cells.

Mark Fink spends a lot of time discussing the small things with his wife Veronica but sometimes, he just can’t find the right words.

Veronica told Ivanhoe, “We were on our way to my daughter’s birthday party and he was gonna sign the card.” Mark said, “I knew what her name was, but I could not create it. I couldn’t not write it. No.”

Mark was diagnosed with a glioblastoma.

Manmeet Ahluwalia, MD, a neurooncologist at Cleveland Clinic, explained, “They are extremely difficult to treat because they spread as spider webs or tentacles. Even with surgery, we can never remove it completely.”

(Read Full Interview)

Dr. Ahluwalia is leading a clinical trial at the Cleveland Clinic called Survaxm. It’s an immunotherapy vaccine that targets glioblastomas.

Dr. Ahluwalia detailed, “This is a peptide-based vaccine that targets survivin. Survivin is a protein that is expressed by cancer cells and it’s not presented in normal cells.”

After patients undergo surgery, chemo, and radiation, they’re given the vaccine every two weeks for eight weeks. Then another shot every three months.

“When we give this vaccine to the patients, it basically boosts their immune system to mount a response against the survivin,” said Dr. Ahluwalia.

After Survaxm there’s no trace of Mark’s tumor. He believes the vaccine is responsible for saving and changing his life.

“He’s always been a very kind man, and now he’s even kinder,” said Veronica.

With the vaccine, 50 percent of the patients were alive after 26 months. Without the vaccine, average survival after diagnosis is 15 to 18 months. More trials are expected this year. First, the treatment will be tested in a randomized trial in patients newly diagnosed with glioblastoma. Doctors are also going to combine two immunotherapies together to see if the immune system gets an extra boost.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer, Marsha Lewis, Field Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4726

BACKGROUND: Each year, there are 12,000 cases of glioblastoma diagnosed in the United States. Each case is a grade IV brain tumor. Tumors develop from astrocytes, which are star- shaped brain cells that help protect the brain from diseases that can form in the blood. These cells supply nutrients to the brain and give the brain its physical structures; they also insulate neurons from each other and create a stable chemical environment. There is not a set spot where the disease can develop in the brain. Most commonly it forms in the frontal lobe or the temporal lobe. The temporal lobe sits toward the bottom of the brain and is responsible for new memories, processing language and input from the senses of hearing, taste, touch and sight.


DIAGNOSIS: Headache, nausea, memory loss, confusion, difficulty with balance, and speech difficulties are symptoms of glioblastoma. There are three other types of brain cancers that occur in glioma: astrocytoma, oligodendroglioma and ependymoma. Exposure to radiation such as electromagnetic fields from power lines, radiofrequency radiation from microwave ovens, age and family history are all risk factors.  Doctors may give a neurological exam to check vision, hearing, balance, strength and reflexes. If there are problems in one or more of these areas, it could be a sign that a brain tumor could be present. MRI, CT and PET scans may also show what is going on inside the brain. There are a few treatment options for treating the brain tumors depending on size, type, grade and location. Patients may turn to surgery, targeted drug therapy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


NEW PROCEDURE: With glioblastoma being incurable, patients’ life expectancy after diagnosis is under 15 months on average with standard treatments. Texas A&M University is researching a new pathway for treatment.  The team research is focused on the AH receptor, which controls the expression of a set of genes. The research team used patient glioblastoma cells looking at several receptor ligands, including Kynurenine. The findings suggested that the AH receptor could be a target for the development of drugs to inhibit the disease. The research team is now looking to see what binds with the receptor.



Andrea Pacetti, Public and Media Relations

Cleveland Clinic


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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Manmeet Ahluwalia, MD, a Neuro-oncologist

Read the entire Q&A