The first 'long-term survivor' in a new brain tumor study is giving doctors hope.

Photo courtesy Duke University.

Stephanie Hopper wasn't expected to live much longer.

In 2011, she was only 20-years-old when she received a diagnosis of stage 4 glioblastoma.


Glioblastoma is a malignant brain tumor affecting an estimated 200,000 people in the U.S. each year. The survival rate is incredibly low and can technically never be "cured."

But Hopper got lucky when she tried an innovative new treatment. She was the first patient in a study that used a modified version of the polio vaccine to attack cancer cells, and Hopper went into remission. Today, she's working as a pediatric oncology nurse and was recently married. She still has occasional seizures, but is receiving medication to help control them.

"I believe wholeheartedly that it was the cure for me," Hooper, now 27, said about the treatment. "Most people wouldn't guess that I had brain cancer."

It's not a miracle cure, but the treatment does hold promise for future treatments.

The study Hopper took part in is making headlines because of the promise it shows for other patients diagnosed with glioblastoma, a condition that has received a lot of attention this year particularly because of the diagnosis given to U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Only 21% of those taking part in the Duke University study have experienced "long term survival." Researchers involved in the study say that's primarily because different people have responded differently to the introduction of the modified polio vaccine.

Those leading the study are quick to caution against unfounded optimism, but are still very excited about its potential, even with the small sounding success rate from the first trial group.

"I've been doing this for 50 years and I've never seen results like this," said  Dr. Darell Bigner.

With the promising early results, they're now hoping to expand the test group to more people.

"The big question is, how can we make sure that everybody responds?” said Dr. Annick Desjardins, who was part of the study team.

The modified poliovirus used in the study, courtesy Duke University.

Stephanie Hopper is a story of hope. It's also one grounded in the promise of science and medical research.

Anyone affected by cancer — directly or through a friend or family member — knows just how important hope is.

Having something to believe in can make all the difference for an individual, but it can also offer inspiration to every young person out there thinking about a career in medicine as a researcher or health care provider. And having people like Hopper to root for makes it a cause even more worth fighting for.

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