Senator John McCain recently died after fighting glioblastoma, the most aggressive and deadliest kind of brain tumor. Now, other patients whose brain tumors come back have a revolutionary new option for treatment. 

Leslie Casillas recently found out her glioblastoma is back. She doesn’t have symptoms and feels good. 

“Sometimes, you know, I’m in the shower, I’ll think, oh, I have a brain tumor. I have cancer. And it’ll kind of hit me for a second. And then I just kind of go about my day,” said Casillas.

She’s waiting to see if she gets in to a phase zero trial at the new Ivy Brain Tumor Center in Phoenix. 

Nader Sanai, MD, Director of the Ivy Brain Tumor Center at Barrow Neurological Institute says phase zero trials shorten testing of new drug therapies from years to months, since the drugs are already approved for other conditions. Doctors give patients small amounts of drug combinations they believe are a good genetic match for the tumor. Then, surgeons remove new growth. 

“In doing so, we can take the tumor that we remove in the operation, test it, and answer two basic questions: did the drug get through and did the drug do what it’s supposed to do,” said Dr. Sanai.

Doctors know if there’s a drug response within seven to ten days. 

“If they’re on the study and they actually graduate to the therapeutic dosing after surgery, they’re really doing so knowing that there’s some hard evidence connecting their tumor’s response to the drug,” said Dr. Sanai.

“That was exciting to me, to have the chance to take something that I know might actually work and have proof that it’s working,” said Casillas.

Dr. Sanai says three trials for about 50 patients are complete. In two of them, doctors identified drugs that had an effect and will be studied further. The third didn’t work, but he says researchers still got good information by understanding how it failed. New trials are open, and you can get more information here.