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Dr. Kim Mulvihill reporting An experimental drug is saving the lives of patients with an aggressive form of cancer.
We're talking about brain cancers which are notoriously hard to treat. But this high tech smart bomb is changing all that.
Dave Herbert: "Jafar would use it to become sultan"
Taylor: "What's sultan?"
Dave: "That's a ruler"
Dave Herbert is reading to his grand-daughters, five-year-old Taylor and 1-year-old Hope; he's alive today because of a high-tech cancer drug.
Five years ago, his doctor gave him terrible news.
Dave Herbert, Brain Cancer Patient: "She says this is the worst kind of tumor you can have."
Dave was diagnosed and treated for a deadly brain tumor, a Glioblastoma. These tumors have tentacles that spread and mix with normal brain tissue. Even with aggressive treatment most patients live less than a year.
Sandeep Kuwar, M.D., UCSF Neurosurgeon: "Typically radiation combined with the chemotherapy will control the tumor for about six to eight months before it comes back."
Dr. Kim: "All patients recur?"
Dr. Kunwar: "All patients recur."
Dave Herber: "It was devastating, and she went on to say I had probably six months to live."
Dave decided to try an experimental drug at UCSF medical center, a drug never before used on humans.
Dave Herbert, Brain Cancer Patient: "I had everything to live for. This offered the best hope for a quality of life, I think, rather than be vegetative or in some state that I really couldn't enjoy the grandchildren and do some of the other things I looked forward to doing in retirement."
Three holes were drilled into Dave's skull.
Annie Herbert, Dave's Wife: "To try this out is unbelievable. Some people might not have the guts to do it."
Three catheters the size of angel hair pasta were inserted into the holes, bypassing what's called the blood brain barrier.
This barrier, which keeps chemo drugs out, ironically keeps this high-tech drug in.
Sandeep Kuwar, M.D., UCSF Neurosurgeon: “It's the blood brain barrier that was our very enemy now is our friend in that it's able to deliver the drug."
The drug, called "il 13 p 38" was slowly, very slowly, infused into Dave's brain over four days. It's a targeted therapy that carries a deadly bacterial toxin.
Sandeep Kuwar, M.D., UCSF Neurosurgeon: "It's very potent. One or a few molecules can kill, actually kill a tumor cell, and it's very selective."
Selective in that it binds to a protein -a receptor- found only on brain cancer cells. Once the drug locks on, the toxin enters the cancer cell and kills it. Since there are no receptors, the drug can't lock onto or hurt normal cells.
As for Dave, he and his wife Annie just got more good news from his doctors at UCSF.
"No evidence of any kind of tumor."
Annie Herber: "Great news, wonderful news!"
Which goes to show happy endings are not just for fairy tales.
The drug helps some patients control the cancer growth, and they will live longer. But there will always be patients where the drug simply won't work.
UCSF scientists are trying to figure out why it works for some and not others.