The brain cancer that took Senator John McCain’s life studied at MCG


The country continues to celebrate the life of war hero and Arizona Senator, John McCain. McCain will be the 31st person to lie in the US Capitol Rotunda. This is a tradition started in 1852 and is one of the highest honors for a government leader. 

Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush will speak at a memorial service honoring the late Senator McCain on Saturday.

A rare and lethal brain cancer, called Glioblastoma, claimed the life of the senator. Right now, researchers at the Medical College of Georgia are studying ways to attack this deadly disease.

One of their biggest struggles with Glioblastoma, even though the treatment is the same, no case is alike and the genetic makeup of each tumor is different. This makes it difficult for doctors to find out what is working and what is not. Right not researchers are trying to determine which treatments are failing and how quickly so they can move on new theories.

Dr. Ali Arbab is a Cancer Biologist at the Medical College of Georgia and he has studied Glioblastoma for decades.

“The reason I started Glioblastoma is because it is a devastating tumor,” says Dr. Arbab.


Glioblastoma affects the brain meaning it has a very small area in which to grow. Also, the nearby tissue cannot simply be removed like with other cancers because this could impair brain functions. This type of tumor also grows very quickly. All these factors add up to make the cancer highly lethal.  

Dr. Arbab explains that previous treatments included attacking the blood vessels that are traveling to the tumor. “Everybody thought if we block the blood vessels, eventually it will go down,” he explains.

However, Dr. Arbab’s research showed the opposite happened. The tumors grew after the treatment.   

“They release this factor. They invite all the stem cells and my background in stem cells, I just realized oh my god, those stem cells are helping them to make more blood vessels, getting more invasive and invade the distal part so the patient is dying because of that,” Dr. Arbab explains.

The tumor is able to trick the bone marrow and signal stem cells to feed the growth of the cancer. A major focus for him now is blocking this feeding process to the tumorous cells. 

Dr. Arbab is currently applying for additional grants to look at even more methods to treat this deadly cancer.  He says current events do not affect grants, but sometimes the attention brings personal donations, which something he welcomes to help families like the McCains as they battle glioblastoma.

The late Senator McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Right now, a local group is raising money to build a permanent Vietnam War Memorial in Downtown Augusta. The tribute will go near the corner of 4th and Broad Streets in Olde Town. Dr. James Brady is leading the initiative. He says they have raised $41 thousand of their roughly $67 thousand goal.  They hope to have the project finished by march of next year.

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