A device that generates a tumor-fighting electric field is helping a mother battle brain cancer. Ben Gruber has more.
STORY: Against all odds, Elizabeth Marek is alive, she has a device that attacks brain cancer cells with electric fields to thank. Elizabeth has glioblastoma, a deadly and aggressive form of brain cancer with no cure and a life expectancy of just over two years. 26 weeks pregnant with her second child, 3 years after a small tumor was found in her brain, Elizabeth began suffering from extreme headaches. She thought it was migraines, but it wasn't. SOUNDBITE (English) ELIZABETH MAREK, BRAIN CANCER PATIENT, SAYING: "It ended up being a tumor that was the size of my fist on the left side of my brain and it was pushing the left brain into the right brain area." If she'd waited two more weeks to come to hospital, her doctors say she would have died. Emergency surgery to remove the tumor was successful. Doctors then waited 8 weeks to allow Elizabeth's daughter more time in the womb before starting radiation and chemotherapy treatment. After the second round of chemo, a new tumor started forming in Elizabeth's brain. That's when Dr. George Ansstas, an oncologist at the Washington University in St. Louis, offered Elizabeth a chance to be a science experiment. SOUNDBITE (English) ELIZABETH MAREK, BRAIN CANCER PATIENT, SAYING: "I have always wanted to be in science. I didn't know I was going to be an experiment." Ansstas fitted Elizabeth with a device called Optune, developed by U.S. based firm Novocure. A backpack feeds to an array of electrodes attached to her head. Those electrodes create an electric field inside her brain which stops cell division in cancer cells. SOUNDBITE (English) GEORGE ANSSTAS, MD, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, ST. LOUIS, SAYING: "There are highly charged particles in the cells that play a role in division and if you expose those cells to this electro-magnetic field you might disrupt that process and lead cells to death." In clinical trials the device, used in combination with conventional treatments, extended patients lives by an average of three months. SOUNDBITE (English) GEORGE ANSSTAS, MD, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, ST. LOUIS, SAYING: "Also one we look at those patients at two years about 43 percent of those patients survive and also that is something that has not been seen before." 43 percent compared to 29 percent with patients that didn't use the device in the trial. For Elizabeth the results have been even more dramatic. SOUNDBITE (English) ELIZABETH MAREK, BRAIN CANCER PATIENT, SAYING: "The first time I got results back after using it for, I think it was, two weeks I had a 30 percent reduction in my tumor size." Now doctors say she has no measurable signs of cancer in her brain. Elizabeth wears the device 18 hours a day and says apart from the odd looks, her life is back to normal. SOUNDBITE (English) ELIZABETH MAREK, BRAIN CANCER PATIENT, SAYING: "The only thing that is different about me is that I carry around a backpack that is putting electrodes into my brain. That way if little kids say 'oh what is that for, what is that for.' I can say oh that's my battery for my brain and they go." There are no studies about the long term effectiveness of her electric cancer fighter and in that sense Elizabeth is a pioneer, counting her blessings and enjoying her family, one day at a time.