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SEATTLE – Malignant glioma is the most common type of brain cancer and the most deadly.
The average survival time is anywhere from two months to three years. But that could soon change.
Connie Radford is beating the odds with the help of some common viruses. She was diagnosed with malignant glioma.
“They said you have two months, seven months, maybe two years,” said Radford. “As a way of coping, I started saying, ‘Well, I’ve got to get this done, I have got to get that done, gotta clean out that closet.’”
What happened next changed everything.
“Then, 10 minutes later they came in and said we may have some more options … a little hope,” Radford said.
That hope was a gene therapy that uses two common viruses — herpes and the common cold.
“It consists of a virus — the herpes virus, which we in certain ways cripple to make in non reproductive,” said Pamela New, neuro-oncologist at the Methodist Hospital. “We attach it to — as a vehicle like a cargo ship — another virus.”
The common cold virus delivers the herpes virus to the tumor cell where it attaches to the cell’s DNA. The patient is given an anti-herpes medication, which in turn kills both the virus and the cancer cell.
Connie says the hardest part was explaining the treatment to her students.
“When I came back to school for the few days to see them, they said ‘you have herpes in your head Ms. Radford?’” she said.
She’s also had radiation and chemotherapy. Her tumor has almost disappeared. She’s now grateful for the disease that nearly took her life.
“But it is a gift because had I just been living my life, I wouldn’t take the time to say ‘I love you’ to some people,” she said.
The treatment is not approved for treating cancers that have returned. Only newly diagnosed patients can be enrolled in the study. The two trial sites are in Houston and Los Angeles.