UCSD advancing glioblastoma brain cancer research

LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) -- This week many Americans are hearing the world 'glioblastoma' for the first time. It's the aggressive brain cancer Sen. John McCain was recently diagnosed with.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego know the word far too well and are working to find new treatments for this deadly form of cancer.

They've brought on a new leader to help make that happen, Dr. Jeremy Rich. He's now director of the Brain Tumor Center and Brain Tumor Institute.

"Glioblastoma is really a challenge because it is a mixture of cancer cells that have all kinds of different characteristics," said Rich.

He comes to San Diego from the Cleveland Clinic, which is a leader in research, education and health information. In 2015, Dr. Rich was awarded nearly $7 million dollars for research, earning the National Cancer Institute's Outstanding Investigator Award.

He came to San Diego with a purpose, make UCSD the international destination for brain cancer patients.

"Everyday that I go into clinic, I walk into a patient's room thinking, 'What can I do differently?'"

He says glioblastoma is resistant to current therapies. Doctors treat it by surgically removing the tumor, giving patients chemotherapy in pill form and then radiation. But the tumor often grows back.

"We need new techniques that make a difference," said Rich. "We actually have a project that's too early to go into patients, but we're working on Zika virus. It turns out Zika virus can kill brain tumor cells as well."

Unlike other treatments, the virus can pass through the blood brain barrier, which is meant to keep out harmful substances.

At Duke University, a poliovirus glioblastoma treatment was awarded rare breakthrough therapy status by the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Rich says UCSD researchers are also studying immunotherapy, which uses the body's own immune system to help fight the cancer.

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