In May 2012, after surgery to remove a brain tumour,
Katey Norton was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most
aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer.
For the next six weeks, she underwent equally
aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Her
head and face swelled and the side-effects made her so
sick that some days she couldn’t get out of bed.
Still, the combination of treatments appears to have
worked. Now, nearly four years later, the 28-year-old
Calgarian is beating the odds; average survival time for
patients with glioblastoma is 15 months after diagnosis.
“This is not just a tough disease; it also takes many
forms,” says Dr. Sam Weiss, a researcher funded by
Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) at the
University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute. “No one
drug is likely to benefit everyone.”
That reality has led Weiss and fellow AIHS-supported
to search for new treatments. For nearly 10 years, the U
of C colleagues have collected brain tissue from patients
to create a “library” of cells for testing different drug
“We’re not yet at that stage where we’re taking
odds for patients
with brain cancer
University of Calgary team launches
clinical trials for new treatment
someone’s tumour, testing the drugs, picking the winner
and then going back and giving it to that person, although
that may be the long-term goal,” Cairncross says.
Every drug combination they test includes
temozolomide (TMZ), the standard chemotherapy drug
for this type of brain cancer. The drug is not a cure, but it
has increased the average survival time to 15 months from
10 and the percentage of five-year survivors to 10, up from
one or two.
One of the team’s most promising advances involves
combining TMZ with a drug called AZD2014. In lab tests,
this combination shut down tumour growth.
With additional support from the Alberta Cancer
combination will begin across Canada later this year.
Weiss hopes the trials will improve the outlook for patients
“We feel optimistic, but that doesn’t in any way
stimulate us to stop or slow down,” he says. “If anything,
— Debby Waldman
AIHS-supported researchers Drs. Greg Cairncross, Artee Luchman and Sam
Weiss are testing a new drug combination to stop brain tumours from growing.