SEATTLE-- Doctors at Seattle Children's Hospital are the first to use immunotherapy to fight brain cancer. It is the most common and deadliest form of childhood cancer. Even the 70 percent of children who survive often live with serious side effects like neuro-deficiencies, hearing loss and stunted growth from the current standard treatments.
After being diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, Avery Berg kept a video blog called Step by Step with Awesome Avery. The simple conversations with mom Kristie show Avery's positive outlook, but they also make it heartbreakingly clear how brutal cancer treatment can be.
"Nothing could have prepared me for the treatment my daughter went through. I've never seen anything like it," Kristie Berg said. "Kids are stronger and more resilient, and their bodies are frankly stronger than ours. So they are able to endure higher, more lethal treatments than adults. And subsequently, it is a really brutal path."
Dr. Nick Vitanza, a neuro-oncologist at Seattle Children's sees a very different experience for future brain cancer patients. He just launched an immunotherapy trial - called BrainChild-01.
Scientists at the Ben Towne Center will take a child's t-cells and supercharge them in the lab. Doctors will then inject the t-cells directly into the child's brain, where they should target the tumor without harming healthy tissue.
If the therapy is proven to work, one day, brain cancer treatment could require nothing more than a few doctor's visits.
"You can imagine a world where a young patient - because a lot of the children I take care of are toddlers - have a few doses of CAR t cells delivered directly into their brain, are able to cure their disease and literally get to a point where they don't remember the treatment they had," Dr. Vitanza said. "Our goal would be to have more patients that grow up and have long, happy lives, having to come to the hospital less often."
Avery had five brain surgeries, six weeks of radiation and six months of high dose chemotherapy. She's been cancer free for a more than a year - but immunotherapy holds the promise of that same cure - without the long term side effects.
"Immunotherapy, quite frankly, it offers hope," Kristie said. "It's just so different from what's offered today."