'Suicide' Gene Kills Brain Cancer

June 18, 2012

Every day and everyone in the Kass family heads outdoors to skate and scoot. Always watching nearby is mom Marni Grass. It was right after her little girl Sloan was born, Marni started feeling strange.

"I had really bad headaches," Marni told Ivanhoe. "I didn't know what it was."

She thought she was suffering from postpartum depression but what she had was a brain tumor.

"Marni looked at me and said 'See i'm not crazy!'" Paul Kass, Marni's husband said.

She had surgery to remove it, chemo and radiation to kill what was left, but it wasn't enough. She was given four months to live and now three years later she's still fighting.

"They actually have tentacles that spread into the brain, and that's why we have a hard time getting it all out," Santosh Kesari, M.D., Ph.D., a neuro-oncologist at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, explained.

Marni is one of the first patients in the country to have a virus injected into her brain to kill the cancer.

"When we inject, the virus infects the next cell and spreads to the next cancer cell," Dr. Kesari said.

Doctor Kesari says a virus called Toca 511 carries a suicide gene to cancer cells. It keeps replicating as it finds more cancer cells. After 4 weeks, patients are given a drug that's activated by the suicide gene.

"That gene converts it to a chemotherapy drug," Dr. Kesari said.

Delivering a toxic dose to the cancer cells without harming healthy cells in the brain. Marni is hoping this is the procedure that wipes out her tumor for good and allows her to focus on her family.

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