Using a virus to attack a brain tumor sounds like the sort of psuedo-science tabloid you’d see on the cover of the National Enquirer. However, the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has brought the miraculous method to the United States for the first time.
J.D. Day, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery in the UAMS College of Medicine, performed a procedure which utilized a cold respiratory virus which, combined with the drug pembrolizumab (brand name Keytruda), attacks cancer cells without affecting healthy cells. The combination of treatments has proven successful with other types of cancer, but this is the first time it’s ever been tried with a brain tumor.
Beth Rogers, a resident of Hazen, successfully underwent the procedure October 5, and has been taking immunotherapy treatments with pembrolizumab every three weeks since without complications or unexpected side effects. Rogers, 63, said that despite the unknowns involved in being the first person to receive the treatment, she had no fear.
“I’ve got so much to live for,” Rogers said. “I’ve got a wonderful family, five grandchildren, wonderful friends and a community. And, I’ve just had so much support. I’m a retired elementary school librarian. They’ve written me letters, and sent me cards. I owe it to them to try and see what I can do, and that’s why I have no fear. I know I’m on the right path.”
Rogers came to UAMS for the procedure when her tumor continued to grow despite two previous surgeries and a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. She went for a consultation from an out-of-state cancer institution, and they referred her back to Arkansas for this trial.
“That is so neat,” Rogers said of being treated so close to home. “I’m just hopeful through this trial that I’m going to help them find better treatment for glioblastoma, because we’ve got to do something. And, I’m proud that it’s being done in Arkansas at UAMS.”
Day said he has worked to make UAMS a place where people can be treated for brain tumors regardless of the specific challenges in their case; he doesn’t want people to have to leave Arkansas for treatment. Because of that groundwork, UAMS was prepared to take part in this groundbreaking trial, he said.
“We have worked to build a center for brain cancer treatment that is essentially second to nobody,” Day said. “We have all of the tools; we have all of the important research; we have trials open to patients – anything that people beforehand would feel they would have to leave the state to get.”
A few additional U.S. sites were approved to take part in the phase two trial, called CAPTIVE – Combination Adenovirus + Pembrolizumab to Trigger Immune Virus Effects – but when Rogers was identified as an ideal participant, UAMS became the first to actually perform the procedure.