Cancer Researcher Fights For His Own Life

For 24-year-old P.J. Lukac, having an MRI every two months has become a ritual full of hope and fear as CBS News contributing medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports.

Last December, Lukac was having mild seizures which he ignored at first. Though he, of all people, should have known better - P.J. is a medical student.

"I always dismissed the brain tumor as possibility with me because it's something you see in 40-, 50-year old people. And at my age it's one in a hundred thousand," said Lukac.

The first scan revealed devastating news: malignant brain cancer like Senator Ted Kennedy's.

P.J.'s tumor is among the most complicated of all, and as a result survival rates have barely budged over the last 25 years. But there is something happening that may change all that.

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Dr. Markus Bredel's lab at Northwestern University is trying to unlock the DNA of brain cancer.

He says that genetics play an important role when it comes to brain tumors because, "brain tumors are a genetic disease."

Brain tumors have more than 100,000 genes, and Bredel's lab has identified the 31 that enable cancer that's been dosed with drugs or radiation to remake itself and continue to grow.

"That makes us very hopeful that in a couple of years from now we have clinical trials that test new therapeutics, which are based on the research we are doing," said Bredel.

Five months after P.J. had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation on his own tumor, he showed up at Dr. Bredel's lab asking for work. He got the job.

"Not only is he an outstanding scientist and researcher, it really reminds us on a daily basis why we are doing that research," said Bredel.

P.J. is hoping for good news from his MRI. It's his sixth since his diagnosis 8 months ago.

His prognosis is better than most, because of his age.

P.J. says that he feels like he's walking on water when he sees a clear MRI.

But he says it's the work in the lab that will keep him alive, to fight for himself and for every brain cancer patient.