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Tetanus shot may boost brain cancer survival

A glioblastoma patient has survived 9 years after she was diagnosed with the deadly cancer. She was given a simple tetanus shot in combination with a vaccine treatment. Invariably, glioblastoma kills its victims within a maximum of 15 months post diagnosis regardless of the treatment.

And this is not a stray case. In their recently published study, researchers from the Duke Cancer Institute have reported that the administration of tetanus along with a vaccine procedure dramatically extends the survival of glioblastoma patients. In their study three of the patients lived years longer than expected after receiving a tetanus shot, which they say enhanced an immunotherapy targeting a virus in the tumour.

Glioblastoma tumours carry a strain of cytomegalovirus not seen in surrounding brain tissue, earlier research had found. This virus acts as a natural target for immunotherapy, a procedure that turns the power of a patient`s own immune system against the cancer cells.

“Because the average survival is 12 to 15 months in patients diagnosed with this tumour, we were quite surprised when three patients had much longer survival times,” said Kristen Batich, a medical student at the Duke University and study author. In the study conducted by Batich and her colleagues, 12 glioblastoma patients were divided into two groups: six were given a tetanus booster and the other six received a placebo (dummy) shot. The following day, all of them took dendritic cell immunotherapy, a treatment that uses dendritic cells to “train” the immune system to respond to a specific infectious agent.

Three of the patients who had received a dose of tetanus in addition to the immunotherapy lived much longer than the average of 12-15 months. One of them is still alive 9 years after she received the tetanus shot.

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