Monday, October 27, 2008

A ‘hunch’ about brain tumors

It started as a hunch about hygiene. Dr. Charles Cobbs noticed that most of his patients with malignant glioma brain tumors were well-educated, came from affluent, wealthy families, and were older. He was just a young doctor when this hunch came to him in the late 1990’s; he was only a neurosurgery resident at USCF.

Malignant glioma, the most common type of brain tumor, usually only offers a two-year life expectancy once diagnosed. It is aggressive and has no cure. Nearly 10,000 people are diagnosed with malignant giloma each year in the United States.

What was Dr. Cobb’s hunch? He felt that his patient’s immune systems were more vulnerable to viruses due to their extremely hygienic lifestyles. In particular, he felt that viruses like CMV, human cytomegalovirus, were more able to infect patients with extremely sanitary lives. To follow up, he enlisted a lab partner to help him analyze brain tumor samples, all with human cytomegalovirus. CMV is also known to cause congenital brain infections and cancer causing properties.

Dr. Cobb published his findings in the journal Cancer Research in 2002, but many just dismissed the information. Now, his peers are revisiting his findings with new eyes. Many are saying that his research opened a door in the field, leading to new information. No other researcher had ever considered that CMV may cause brain tumors.

In February 2008, Duke University Medical Center brain cancer researchers confirmed his discovery. Their peer-reviewed report has caused quite a stir and action is already underway. The Duke researcher, Dr. Mitchell, is currently studying 13 patients with a CMV virus that hopefully encourages the immune system to get rid of the infected cells.

Also, two reports have been released from independent labs since the Duke University report, and the National Brain Tumor Society is sponsoring an event with top glioma experts and virologists to study the correlation between these brain tumors and CMV. The hope for these studies is that since nearly 95 percent of these brain tumors seem to reappear after being surgically removed, creating a treatment that will get rid of infected cells can help prevent these cancerous tumors from returning.

This seems to be just the beginning. There are still many questions to be answered and studies to be done. Hopefully funding will follow these hunches.

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