Houston Methodist patient's brain tumor shrinks after using experimental helmet for 6 months

Mayra Moreno Image
Saturday, March 25, 2023
ABC13 checks up with woman on experimental brain cancer treatment
A woman diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a deadly brain tumor, has seen improvement after using a magnetic stimulation helmet.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Six months ago, we told you about a young woman who was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor only found in children. She has been on a journey with Houston Methodist Hospital trying out a magnetic stimulation helmet which could possibly get rid of her tumor.

Just last week, ABC13's Mayra Moreno followed up with her and the team of doctors, and her results are astonishing.

Last October, ABC13 spoke to Stephanie Gonzalez as she was going through an experimental treatment using this very helmet.

"(I wear it) six hours a day," Gonzalez said. "As soon as I wake up, I just do the helmet and it motivates me to keep going."

Not long ago, she was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, which is an aggressive and malignant tumor found in the middle of the brainstem normally found in children.

"These tumors are like an octopus. They have a head and they have tentacles that expand long distances into the brain," Dr. David Baskin, the director of the Kenneth R. Peak Brain and Pituitary Treatment Center, said.

Dr. Baskin has spent his entire life treating people with tumors and said he has seen vital young people become quadriplegic, go on a ventilator, and worse.

"Most people are faced with this terrible decision of how long should you continue to live like this," Dr. Baskin said.

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But this astonishing research with the oncomagentic helmet conducted by Dr. Baskin, his team at Houston Methodist, and research institute scientist Dr. Santosh Helekar is showing dramatic promise.

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So for the last half year, Gonzalez has been placing her hope on the helmet and her faith in her doctors. She was given specific instruction to wear the helmet six hours a day, every day.

"There was moments when I was getting frustrated, there was other things I would rather do versus sitting at home with the helmet or going outside having a big device," she said.

Still, she pressed on. Now for the first time, ABC13 got to see her results since our last interview.

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"So here we are on September 7, 2022. You can see this pretty nasty tumor, and over months, we saw this thing get smaller and smaller and smaller." Dr. Baskin pointed out. "Here we are February 1, just a few weeks ago, you really can't see much of anything at all."

It's a stunning miracle and the results are obvious.

"So it's an emotional moment for me to think, 'Wow, do we really have something this good?' Of course, it's only one patient, and maybe it's not going to work in every patient, but the fact that it worked in any patient is absolutely remarkable," Dr. Baskin said.

Gonzalez is the first person in the world with her type of tumor to try this kind of therapy under the FDA's program expanded access, which allows approved compassionate use for patients at the end-stage of cancer and have no other options.

"It's a mix of emotions. Excited, mainly excited," Gonzalez said.

It wasn't long ago that she was told there was nothing that could be done to get rid of this deadly tumor. However, she, her family, and especially her boyfriend, never gave up. After one night of searching online, he found an article about Dr. Baskin. With nothing to lose, Gonzalez found herself at Houston Methodist with Dr. Baskin and Dr. Helekar.

"I just want to say thank you. They never gave up. Even though a lot of the results were negative, they never gave up, and I think that's a really hopeful thing," Gonzalez said.

The next big goal is to head into a full clinical trial to give others like Gonzalez a fighting chance. But that will take millions of dollars.

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For now, Gonzalez will continue using the helmet and focusing on her future. She's going to school for nursing and says her spirits have been high thanks to those around her.

"Definitely will say, have your support system. That will help you a lot having people to always motivate you, push you forward that always helps," she said.