Herpes treatment could be the key to curing deadliest brain cancers


Daisy Bernstein

Date: 19.05.2017

THE solution to stopping an ­incurable brain tumour could lie with a drug now used to treat a common herpes virus.

Australian scientists are hoping to trial this, but desperately need funding from the government.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a member of the herpes family that is present in half of all adults, although it shows no signs or symptoms as a healthy immune system keeps it in check.

In a major breakthrough, researchers at Duke University in the US have found this virus concentrates in the lethal brain tumour glioblastoma. By using a vaccine to attack the CMV, the Duke University trial has prolonged the lives of the trial subjects four-fold.

Three of the 11 patients are still alive and others lived for more than five years, compared to the average of 15 months post-diagnosis with glioblastoma.

University of NSW Associate Professor Kerrie McDonald said CMV proteins were abundant in glioblastoma tumours but absent in surrounding brain cells.

Her team has found a peptide (an amino acid) that can attack the CMV proteins and therefore attack the tumour without harming surrounding brain tissue.

“Because CMV concentrates in the tumour, it is a viable target and it’s a small peptide so it crosses the blood-brain barrier,” Prof McDonald said.

Mother-of-five Felicity Plew was diagnosed with glioblastoma in May this year. Her baby son Jesse was delivered at 33 weeks so that she could have surgery to remove 80 per cent of the tumour.

The 32-year-old has not responded to chemotherapy or radiotherapy and her husband Simon said the tumour had grown back.

“Flip is having surgery again tomorrow (Monday) to have more tumour removed because it has grown back to 4cm. We’ve asked what else there is in the world and we’ve been told if we want further treatment, like experimental treatment, we have to go overseas and you’re up for hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Mr Plew said.

The surgery was to “buy time”, Mr Plew said, adding he hoped such a trial could come to Australia.

Simon, and children, Alexander, 8, Gracie, 6, Sophia, 4, Charlie, 2 and baby Jesse are by Felicity’s side praying for a cure.

As is the case with most new brain cancer treatments, Prof McDonald needs funding and is applying for government grants of up to $1.5 million to run a peptide trial next year.

“We need money to run the trial with 26 adult brain cancer patients next year. The adult trial will be first but then we want to trial it on children, which will be funded by the Love For Lachie foundation,” she said.

Lachie Muldoon, 10, died of glioblastoma brain cancer in October 2015 and his parents set up the foundation to fund potential cancer treatments.

“I strongly believe this trial will work in patients and I’m confident we will see patient survival shift,” Prof McDonald said.

Brain cancer remains the number one disease killer of children and survival rates have not changed in three decades due to a lack of funding for research.

The current Senate Inquiry into Funding For Research Into Cancers With Low Survival Rates has heard that research funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council goes mainly to high-profile cancers. Dozens of applications for brain cancer research get knocked back each year.


This material was created exclusively for WorldHealthNews project by Daisy Bernstein.

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