Fort Lee Woman Surviving Terminal Brain Cancer With Help of Vaccine

Source: Daily Mail UK

When Sandra Hilburn of Fort Lee, New Jersey was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2006, she was told she only had up to three months to live.
Nine years — and five grandchildren — later, the 68-year-old retiree…is still going strong, and all thanks to an experimental treatment involving a common vaccine: Hillburn was one of 12 cancer patients who were given a tetanus shot as part of a new study conducted at the Duke University Medical Center.

Researchers found that a dose of tetanus vaccine let patients like Hillburn live longer when added to an experimental treatment for the most common and deadly kind of brain tumor. (According to) researcher Kristen Batich of the Duke University Medical Center…it “put the immune system on high alert,” paving the way for the experimental treatment to work better in attacking the disease.

A paper released Wednesday by the journal Nature…(reports that) some who got the tetanus shot lived years longer than those who didn’t. Dr. John Sampson of Duke, senior author of the report, called the results promising but noted the study was small, and said bigger studies are needed to confirm the results. A follow-up study has already been planned…

Brain cancer experts unconnected with the work were impressed. The results are “very exciting,” said Dr. Nader Sanai of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. While he agreed more work is required, “…(S)o far, its a very positive story.”

The new study focused on glioblastoma, which killed Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy in 2009. Even after surgery to remove the tumor, it usually grows back and kills. The few drugs to treat these tumors have little effect: half of patients die within about 15 months.

When diagnosed in New York in April 2006, “I was told I had two to three months to live,” Sandra Hillburn recalled…but her family flew her to Duke in North Carolina because of its reputation for glioblastoma care, and she was offered a slot in the experimental study.

“I was very positive it would help,” Hillburn said (of being part of the study). “I said, ‘Sure, thank you.’ I’m still saying thank you.”

In the years since then, she has attended her son’s wedding and gained five more grandchildren. Now she plays soccer with six grandsons in Ohio and Boston. “I look forward to seeing the wonderful people they”re becoming,” she said.

She continues to visit Duke once a month for more cell injections. Last November, she celebrated her 100th treatment. Dr Sampson said it’s not clear why she has lived so long, (but) Hillburn credits the treatment and her medical care. She also cited the example of her father, who is a 97-year-old survivor of two kinds of cancer.
“He just went about his life, and so I did the same thing,” Hillburn said. “I think I”m good for at least another 10 years.”

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