A Woman’s Life is Extended by 9 years Due to Experimental Cancer Therapy


68-year old Sandy Hillburn was one of the university patients who reaped the benefits of experimental cancer therapy. The cancer researchers at Duke University claim that this experimental cancer therapy has helped patients prolong their lives.

During an interview, Hillburn stated that she very fortunate to have six grandsons and life-long friends.

“I was actually told I would have two or three months to live,” said Hillburn.

During her initial examinations, doctors discovered that she had a dangerous type of brain cancer that has an average patient survival rate of two years after diagnosis. This type of cancer is called glioblastoma, a vicious brain cancer with an average survival rate of approximately one to two years.

In 2006, Hillburn decided to try the experimental cancer vaccine therapy at the Duke University. This vaccine enables the body’s immune cells to destroy a virus called CMV, which is found in the cancer cells. The vaccine is prepared by extracting the white blood cells of the patient and exposing it to a protein from the CMV virus. This CMV virus is not present in the healthy tissues of the brain, but are found in the glioblastoma cells. When the patient receives the vaccine, the body’s immune system receives a signal to destroy the CMV virus, which in turn, affects the cancer cells.

Dr. John Sampson, a professor of surgery at Duke University, explained how the process works. He said that the human body, specifically, the immune system, is already programmed to attack any type of viruses. After establishing this premise, doctors realized that this process could be very useful in treating the cancer by allowing the body attack the virus, and in turn, attack the tumor itself.

Dr. Sampson further explained that the primary basis of the trial is to create an allergic reaction in the body to put the immune system on defense mode. During the early part of the studies, the vaccine was less effective, so doctors added a tetanus shot before starting the treatment. The allergic reaction signals the body to prepare to react to whatever may be introduced next.

Sandy Hillburn will be celebrating her 100th treatment this November. When she first fell ill, she only had one grandson; today, she has lived to see five more grandchildren. Hillburn now receives monthly cancer vaccine shots. Out of the 15 participants of the experiment, it was reported that six patients who received the CMV vaccine alone were able to survive an average of one and a half years longer than those who did not receive the vaccine. Of the six other patients that received a tetanus shot prior to the vaccine, three patients survived an average of 22 months, two patients lived for five or six years, and Hillburn has been successfully healthy for nine years.

This experiment clearly gives hope to those patients who are suffering from glioblastoma. This type of cancer has proven to ruthless with rather limited treatment options. The spread of this treatment at other institutions provides patients with hope in beating this type of cancer.