• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Cold virus helps kills brain tumors?

May 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The most aggressive form of brain tumor has a new enemy. Gene therapy is giving doctors and patients high hopes. The treatment has only been performed on a few people in the world.

"Oh, it's just devastating. It's like your life's over," said brain cancer patient John Worch.

That's the first thing that went through Worch's mind last April when he found out he had Stage 4 glioblastoma, the deadliest kind of brain tumor.

Worch, an elementary school principal, also serves in the Air National Guard. He had the 3.5-inch tumor removed.

But in February, it started growing back. Worch got in touch with neuro-oncologist Dr. Andrew Brenner, who enrolled him in a first-of-its-kind gene therapy study. As part of the one-time treatment, Worch was injected with a cold virus.

"But instead of the virus carrying its own DNA, it carries our engineered DNA," said Brenner Neuro-Oncologist.

The doctor says the virus delivers that engineered gene to cells around the brain tumor, signaling them to die.

"It basically causes the tumor to starve. No nutrition. No oxygen," said Brenner.

Brenner says right now only three people in the world are taking part in the study.

"But of the patients that have been treated, none of them have had tumor growth," said Brenner.

That's a promising sign, but Brenner says it's too early to draw any conclusions.

"You hope as time goes on, the more it gets starved, the more it will shrink and die away," said Brenner.

Worch says he feels better since the treatment. He hopes the innovative therapy will allow him to keep working with children and be around for his own children.

"I'm hoping to see them grow up into adults on their own and have their own families. That's what I hope to see," said Worch.

Brenner says so far, the three patients in the gene therapy study haven't had any side effects. He hopes to expand the study to include about 25 more brain tumor patients in the near future.


WHAT IS A BRAIN TUMOR? A brain tumor is a mass of excess cells that grows in the brain. Tumors can be benign or malignant: benign tumors are not cancerous and are not usually life-threatening, while malignant tumors are cancerous and can be life-threatening. Benign tumors can usually be removed without issue. Primary brain tumors develop in the brain, whereas secondary, or metastatic tumors, originate elsewhere and move to the brain. Symptoms of a brain tumor include frequent headaches, unexplained nausea or vomiting, blurred or double vision, difficulties with balance or speaking, hearing problems and personality changes, among others. (SOURCE: http://www.mayoclinic.com)

TYPES OF BRAIN TUMOR: Primary brain tumors are usually named for the part of the brain or the cells from which they originate. While there are many types of brain tumors, the most common types in adults are:

  • Astrocytoma- These tumors originate from star-shaped cells called astrocytes and normally occur in the cerebrum.
  • Meningioma- This type of tumor is usually benign and slow-growing and arises in the meninges. It can be any grade.
  • Oligodendroglioma- This type of tumor usually occurs in the cerebrum and originates from the fatty cells that cover nerves in the brain. It is most common in middle-aged adults.
  • Doctors rate tumors by grade, with grade I being the least harmful and grade IV being the most harmful.

  • Grade I tumors are benign, and they grow slowly. The cells in a grade I tumor mostly look like normal cells.
  • Grade II tumors are malignant. The cells look less normal than those of a grade I tumor.
  • Grade III tumors are also malignant and actively growing. The cells of a grade III tumor look very different than normal cells.
  • Grade IV tumors are the worst kind. They are malignant, and they tend to grow rapidly, with highly abnormal-looking cells.
  • (SOURCE: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/brain/page3 )

    TREATMENTS:Most brain tumors are treated by surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or some combination of the three. Surgery removes the tumor from the brain and is usually the first treatment option. Radiation uses X-rays, gamma rays or protons to kill tumor cells and generally comes after surgery. Chemotherapy kills the tumor using drugs.

    Recent research has looked at using oncolytic viruses to kill brain tumors. Oncolytic viruses are viruses that are specifically programmed to target and kill tumor cells. The virus is injected into the blood stream and is encoded to only kill tumor cells and to only replicate itself if there are tumor cells present. Therefore, when the virus has successfully eradicated the tumor, it stops replicating and dies. (SOURCE: http://www.nbglobe.com)