Brain cancer doctors at Swedish believe they're close to breakthrough to improve survival

VIDEO: Brain cancer breakthrough

Doctors at Swedish Hospital in Seattle say they’re on the verge of a breakthrough they hope will add years of survival for brain cancer patients. KIRO 7 went to the lab this week to see the cutting edge research ahead of the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk on May 5.

“We measure, unfortunately, for this disease success as improvement over a couple of months,” Dr. Charles Cobbs told KIRO 7. “My goal is to have radical improvement in terms of years or cure.”

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Dr. Cobbs is a brain surgeon and the director of the Ivy Center for Brain Tumor Treatment at Swedish.  For 15 years, he’s been working to show the world that a common virus, called cytomegalovirus, fuels the highly aggressive brain tumor glioblastoma.

“We believe that if we can figure out what this virus is doing and effectively treat the viral infection,” he said. “We may have a quantum leap in terms of treating glioblastoma.”

Researchers at Duke University have taken the work from the Ivy Center and developed a vaccine that has shown preliminary evidence of improving survival by more than a year.

This year, roughly 24,000 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with brain cancer.

This Sunday, survivors like Monica Ledgett, who was diagnosed 10 years ago, will rally together at the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk at Seattle Center.

“I think that this amazing research and advancements will make it better for the people that are coming behind me,” Ledgett told KIRO 7.

The Ivy Center is also wrapping up phase one of a trial with the University of Washington using stem cells. Dr. Cobbs showed KIRO 7 how it works.

“We have flasks containing patients' cancer stem cells,” he said in front of the refrigerator full of samples. “And we grow these up until we have millions of cells. And then we run them through a high throughput robotics machine. And then we run them against FDA-approved drugs to come up with the drugs that the patient is sensitive to.”

All the proceeds from the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk will go straight to the Ivy Center. Participants have raised more than $5.5 million in the past and they hope to raise $500,000 more this Sunday.

Dr. Cobbs says that’s huge, because the trials and research they're involved in fall outside the typical federal funding.

“Anything that's cutting edge and out there usually will not get funded,” he said.  “So we really depend on the community to support novel cutting edge, new concepts because otherwise they'd never get funded and you'd never know the results.”