Brain Cancer Vaccine May Extend Patients' Lives

A new treatment for glioblastoma - an aggressive type of brain cancer that claimed the life of Sen. Ted Kennedy last year - is helping extend lives, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and CBS News contributing medical correspondent, reports.

There are 10,000 new cases of the disease in this country each year, making it the most common brain cancer.

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Lee Sullivan remembers the day when a game of golf became a struggle for life.

"During my back swing, the lights went out," Sullivan said.

He had a seizure and passed out. The diagnosis: glioblastoma.

"Whenever you get a diagnosis for brain cancer, you're not really expecting a long-term survival," Sullivan said.

The statistics are particularly grim for glioblastoma. On average, patients live about 14 months after diagnosis.

Dr. John Sampson, of Duke University Medical Center, and others have been working on a vaccine that could help about one-third of these patients, those whose tumors have a gene mutation that fuels aggressive growth.

"It educates the immune system to produce antibodies, or magic bullets, that really go and find the tumor and help the immune system attack the tumor very specifically," Sampson said.

In results released Monday, patients who received the vaccine in addition to the standard therapy of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy extended their survival for 26 months.

Sampson said he has patients who have lived for five years on the vaccine. Sullivan is hoping to do better than that.

"I'm almost 12 months into my treatments now feeling great, doing very well," Sullivan said.

This study is small - just 18 patients - but researchers are planning a bigger Phase III trial to confirm these results.