Glioblastoma is a rare brain tumor where treatment options are limited, but doctors are working tirelessly to find ways to beat it. Meet a Pennsylvania man who’s living proof of how science is marching forward against this deadly disease.
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CLEVELAND – When Jeff Tabor, 53, a marketing professional and father of three was having difficulty speaking, reading, and comprehending certain words in early 2017, he figured that work stress was getting the best of him.
However, after visiting his doctor and failing cognitive tests, a brain scan revealed a shocking diagnosis.
“They found a six and a half centimeter egg, chicken egg sized, tumor in the front left of my brain,” said Tabor.
He was diagnosed with glioblastoma (GBM), the most aggressive form of brain cancer.
Tabor underwent surgery at a hospital in Pittsburgh to remove the golf ball-sized tumor, followed by radiation. The surgery immediately alleviated his symptoms.
Then, Tabor enrolled in a study at Cleveland Clinic.
He was one of 55 patients who took part in the multi-center phase II study– adding an immunotherapy vaccine (SurVaxM) to traditional GBM treatment, following the traditional course of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. SurVaxM is a first-of-its-kind immunotherapy that has been engineered to stimulate patients’ immune response to control tumor growth and recurrence.
According to Cleveland Clinic neuro-oncologist Manmeet Ahluwalia, M.D.,– one of the principal investigators in the study– adding an immunotherapy vaccine (SurVaxM) to traditional GBM treatment methods is improving outcomes for patients.
Since most GBM patients only survive about 15 to 16 months with standard therapy, Tabor aggressively pursued additional treatment options, which led him to inquire about the SurVaxM trial and Dr. Ahluwalia, who is director of the Brain Metastasis Research Program at Cleveland Clinic’s Neurological Institute.
“This vaccine is unique to this particular trial, and all the stars aligned for me to (be eligible) to get accepted into it,” said Tabor. “Dr. Ahluwalia is really encouraged by my progress – life is good.”
SurVaxM stimulates the immune system to kill tumor cells that contain survivin, a protein that helps cancer cells resist conventional treatments. Preliminary results of the first 55 patients in the SurVaxM trail reveal a 12-month overall survival rate of 90.9 percent from diagnosis and 70.8 percent from first immunization, a vast improvement over traditional treatment alone.
“While we are still in the relatively early phases of testing this vaccine, we are seeing some very promising results which give us a lot of hope for these patients,” said Dr. Ahluwalia. “In Jeff’s case, he has gone almost 18 months from his diagnosis, and – on his recent MRI scans — we do not see any evidence of cancer growing going back in his brain.”
Patients have experienced few, if any, side effects. Researchers now plan to conduct a randomized, prospective trial of SurVaxM for GBM patients.
Tabor is looking forward to spending a normal summer of trips to the local pool with his family, while continuing his career as a program manager.
“If you would have told me a year ago that I would feel this great today, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. “Every day has been better than the previous day.”
Dr. Ahluwalia presented the interim findings of the study at the recent 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago.