News

8.14.2013

Miller School Offers Brain Cancer Vaccine to Recurrent Cases

A revolutionary brain cancer vaccine clinical trial once limited to patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma multiforme is now offered to UHealth patients with a recurrent brain tumor. As in the original study, the patient’s own tumor cells are used to develop the vaccine that is designed to target the immune system, offering hope to those with the most common and aggressive form of brain tumor.

Ricardo Komotar, M.D., assistant professor of neurological surgery, is leading the trial only available in Florida at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “We’re taking the same principle behind the original vaccine and now examining how it works in patients who have had their tumor return,” said Komotar.

The heat shock protein vaccine (HSPPC-96) is created using the patient’s tumor cells and is designed to target the immune system, activating a patient-specific T cell response, without injuring normal neural and glial structures.

“Our hope is that the heat shock protein sparks the patient’s immune system to view the tumor cells as foreign material and fight them,” said Komotar, who is also co-director of surgical neuro-oncology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. “If this proves successful, perhaps malignant brain tumors may have an improved prognosis.”

Two patients have already undergone the initial phase of having their tumors surgically removed by Komotar at University of Miami Hospital. The first patient, 70-year-old David Roberts, a retired agricultural engineer, knew his tumor had returned when dizzy spells and shaking on the left side of his body occurred in April, soon after he completed radiation treatment. “Vision problems in my left eye led me to the doctor and my first diagnosis,” Roberts said. “I knew it was back.”

Israel Wiznitzer, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and his Sylvester oncologist at UHealth at Plantation, suggested that he consider a clinical trial. His son Jeffery did some research and learned that Komotar led the first trial for new cases in early 2012 and would soon be opening this one for recurrent cases. Roberts’ surgery was July 9, and he and his wife Audrey now wait to hear when they will return for the vaccinations, along with chemotherapy.

As he recovers, Roberts is upbeat about the potential. “I really felt it was beneficial to us and for patients of the future,” he said.

Difficulty speaking was the first symptom that Michael Robiou of Orlando noticed in July 2012. Days after going to the ER, the 50-year-old Walt Disney World employee was having brain surgery, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. When the tumor returned in June of this year, his oncologist recommended he see Komotar. His surgery was July 22 and now he’s recovering at home in Hollywood, where he’s moved to be closer to family.

Early results of the heat shock protein have been promising, extending life expectancy with few side effects. Komotar says, “We’re hopeful that this type of approach will be successful, offering another option to patients with an aggressive disease.”

Patients who are randomized into the trial will receive injections of the vaccine in addition to a protocol of chemotherapy.

Robiou’s sister, Rebeca Alberti, says she’s hopeful the vaccine will work for Michael, but if not, hopes that it will work for others. “The more people who get awareness and learn about this, the better.”

For more information about the heat shock protein trial for recurrent glioblastoma multiforme, call 305-689-2427.

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