New drug extends life of cancer patients

April 7, 2010 5:24:39 PM PDT
While MD Anderson scientists fight brain cancer in the lab, one of their own is fighting her own battle in the trenches.

Gail Goodwin couldn't speak. But her MD Anderson co-worker Sara Ferris quickly noticed.

"I really thought she was having a stroke," Ferris said.

Goodwin is now a one-year brain cancer survivor.

"She said this is a really bad April Fools joke, because it was April first, or I need to call the ambulance. And I just smiled at her," Goodwin said.

Goodwin learned that day she had a lemon sized brain tumor. She had surgery, and now takes a new chemotherapy pill.

"I look pretty normal," Goodwin said. "I've got hair, I'm doing just fine."

Fortunately, Goodwin's brain cancer is slow growing.

Dr. Amy Heimberger is a brain cancer vaccine researched and neurosurgeon with MD Anderson Cancer Center.

She is working on aggressive brain tumors, and her team has developed a vaccine to treat brain cancer that can extend survival by about a year and a half, with few side effects.

"They're doing their normal jobs day to day and are doing well on the vaccine," Heimberger said. "So it does have advantages. Taking advantage of a patient's own immune system to attack the cancer is very appealing."

The drug giant Pfizer has bought her drug and is beginning an international study this fall. Now Heimberger is working on a new drug she calls chemo-immuno therapy.

"It also very much activates the immune system tumor to kill, not only the cancer but also the cancer stem cells," she said.

Heimberger credits the Rose Foundation for funding these experimental treatments.

"Without support from Lanie Rose and the Dr. Marnie Rose Foundation, there would not be any national institutes of health grants here," Heimberger said.

Meanwhile, Goodwin is doing well with her treatments.

"She's back to the same old Gail," Ferris said. "It's just really a blessing.

"My husband told me last week on April1st, he said, 'No more April Fools jokes,' Goodwin said laughingly. "Not a problem."


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