In Arizona, The Fight Against Brain Cancer is Personal
Today marks the two-year anniversary of the passing of Senator John McCain from glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer. As someone whose resilient and optimistic spirit had been the hallmark of their public image after countless close calls with death, the country watched in grief as McCain’s health deteriorated at a rapid pace. Even with health on his side and access to the best healthcare in the world, the senator lost his battle with the disease a little over a year after his diagnosis.
McCain’s passing shook the nation, but it wasn’t the first time glioblastoma struck a prominent political figure. Exactly nine years earlier to the day, the disease took the life of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and in 2015 Joseph “Beau” Biden III, son of former vice president and current democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, lost his battle with glioblastoma at the young age of 46.
GBM: A Disease that Doesn’t Discriminate
Due to the complexity and unique nature of glioblastoma, little progress has been made to identify new and effective glioma treatment options. Unlike other cancers such as breast or lung, glioblastomas are extremely genetically heterogeneous. This means every tumor from patient to patient is different and as a consequence, the answers for treating those tumors are different for each patient.
There’s also the issue of location. Not only does a tumor in the brain impact the very fabric of a patient’s existence affecting things like speech and memory, it can also multiply and spread quickly in such a small space. Researchers are up against the clock with patients who are mostly young, healthy and have led relatively uneventful lives in terms of their personal health. In fact, the irony is that many glioblastoma patients are healthier than patients with other cancer types.
So how are researchers tackling a disease with 12,000 new cases a year and a 16-month median survival rate? The answer, much like the disease itself, is complex, but researchers from Sen. McCain’s home state of Arizona are ready to take on the challenge.
Arizona’s Fight to Beat Brain Tumors
Long before the passing of Sen. McCain, Arizona had been at the forefront of brain cancer research. Located in the heart of Phoenix, the nationally-recognized Barrow Neurological Institute treats the largest volume of brain tumor patients in the country and the Ivy Foundation in Scottsdale is the largest privately funded brain cancer research foundation in North America having dedicated over $100 million since 2005. Both entities have become instrumental in the design and implementation of an ambitious program to treat aggressive brain tumors, Ivy Phase 0 clinical trials.
The Ivy Center’s Phase 0 clinical trials program is the largest of its kind in the world and enables personalized care in a fraction of the time and cost associated with traditional drug development. Unlike conventional clinical trials focusing on single drugs, this accelerated trials program tests therapeutic combinations matched to individual patients. The goal of the Ivy Phase 0 clinical trials is to challenge the status quo and address the shortcomings in current research to give brain tumor patients more treatment options that work and a longer life expectancy.
While Sen. McCain’s battle with glioblastoma prompted many throughout the nation to take notice of a disease that had been relatively unheard of, in Arizona where his death was felt profoundly throughout the state, local officials took a newfound interest in the groundbreaking research being done right in their backyard to help brain cancer patients.
Raising Awareness for Glioblastoma
U.S. Sens. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona toured the Ivy Brain Tumor Center to learn about the unconventional method researchers are taking to treat aggressive brain tumors. Despite party differences, they both agreed that more needs to be done to bring awareness to glioblastoma and accelerate research. Shortly after each of their visits, the Arizona senators joined forces with other prominent senate members who had relationships with McCain and unanimously passed a bi-partisan resolution designating July 17, 2019 as the inaugural Glioblastoma Awareness Day (GBM Day).
Observed as a day to honor those who have been impacted by the disease, the initiative also supports efforts to develop better treatment options that will improve patients’ long-term prognosis. On July 22, 2020, the second annual Glioblastoma Awareness Day took place with advocates, researchers, patients and caregivers coming together to shine a light on this disease. The day was by all accounts a success and demonstrated the power of uniting forces to raise awareness for one of the deadliest diseases known to man.
Honoring Those We’ve Lost Through Advancements In Brain Tumor Research
As people in the country reflect today on the passing of Sen. John McCain, a beloved figurehead who embodied the strength and determination of the human spirit, many continue to suffer a similar and devastating fate due to glioblastoma. With researchers racing against the clock to crack the code, initiating new and inventive approaches to treat patients with brain cancer, a breakthrough feels closer than it ever has before. With increased awareness and support of research development for new treatment options, thousands will be one step closer in their quest to overcome this disease.
In the words of the late senator himself, “Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”
To find out how you can support brain cancer research in honor of Sen. McCain or a loved one, visit the Barrow Neurological Foundation’s donate page.