Drug encourages body to recognize and fight cancer cells.
A new brain cancer vaccine is being tested in select hospitals across the country.
41-year-old Cathy Hoffman-Booker of Weston is the first patient in Florida to try a new vaccine for GBM or glioblastoma multiformae, the most aggressive type of brain tumor.
She's enrolled in a clinical trial at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
"The goal of the vaccine is to really spark her immune system to recognize those tumor cells as foreign, and then fight those tumor cells and keep them at bay, and hopefully keep them from coming back," explained neurosurgeon Dr. Ricardo Komotar.
Her MRI scan shows the tumor deep in the left frontal lobe.
It was completely removed, then the vaccine was used to try to keep it from returning.
"We took out her brain tumor, it was preserved, and then from her own tumor we purified down what's called the heat shock protein, and then that was readministered to her this past week," Komotar said.
That protein in high concentrations will hopefully activate and program immune cells to specifically attack only the tumor cells.
Hoffman-Booker also had radiation and is still taking chemotherapy pills.
"She's doing great, no apparent side effects from the treatments she's been having, so she's doing very well," said her husband of 11 years, Loren Booker. They have two children.
Jennifer Hoffman set up a website in November to inform family and friends of her sister's condition. That's how they learned about the vaccine study.
"Thanks to the website someone at my nephew's school sent an article to me about the trial," Hoffman said.
There are only eight medical centers across the country involved in the Heat Shock Protein Vaccine (HSPPC-96) trial.
UM Sylvester is the only study site in Florida.
Only patients with an MRI or biopsy that confirms the tumor is a GBM, and who have had no radiation or chemotherapy are eligible.
If they've already had surgery, only those who've had the tumor partially removed can participate because the tumor is used to make the vaccine.
Hoffman-Booker will get four weekly shots and then monthly vaccines.
She says her plan is to move forward.
"And be positive and hopeful that I'll see my children grow. So I'm not going to give up."