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New test for brain tumors

Published: Apr. 5, 2016 at 12:18 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2016 at 1:40 AM EDT
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PITTSBURGH (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM)  Every year in the United States as many as 15,000 people are diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most aggressive kind of brain cancer.

Many patients do not survive more than a year after diagnosis.  A new test can help doctors pinpoint what is driving the tumor and better target their treatment early on.

Fifty-one-year-old Christopher Keim felt perfectly fine until Christmas Eve 2014 when he was working in his yard.

Keim says, "The sensation of hearing was exaggerated.  I came in and the words were bouncing off the walls."

"We both thought it was a stroke, says Melissa Murphy, Keim's wife. " He tried to say stroke, and st, st was all he could get out for that."

An MRI revealed a brain tumor. Keim was in a coma for a month.

"They were afraid that I wasn't going to have the same personality. They were afraid I wasn't going to make it through it," Keim details.

He began to recover only to find that he had another brain tumor.

This time, doctors took a small sample of his tumor and ran it through cutting-edge molecular testing designed to pick up genetic mutations. It's called Glio Seq.

Dr. Jan Drappartz, a neuro-oncologist at UPMC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania says, "The ability to understand on a molecular level what's driving a particular patient's tumor is crucial to identifying treatments early on."

In Keim's case, researchers identified a mutation that was treatable with a new vaccine therapy.

Doctors applied for a "compassionate use" exception for the vaccine they are using to treat Keim, since it was not FDA-approved for glioblastoma. The vaccine has been shown to extend the life of brain tumor patients by a year or more.

Glio Seq was developed at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh.  Doctors say right now, some insurance covers it.

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