Tips to Live By

Brain Cancer Patient's Sacrifice Opens a New Frontier in Noninvasive Brain Tumor Treatment

Oct. 11, 2021 - Patti Muck

James "Lance" Mobley's two-year battle with glioblastoma was a selfless journey to discover a better treatment and ultimately a cure for this deadly cancer. He was the first human in the world to test oscillating magnetic fields to shrink his tumor. Lance's glioblastoma shrunk by 30 percent in just six weeks. Dr. David Baskin and his team in the Peak Brain Tumor Center at Houston Methodist continue their research into this novel technology. This is Lance's story.

Oncomagnetic therapy has the power to shrink deadly brain tumors: Lance's story

It was Memorial Day weekend 2018, and Lance and Kelly Mobley were enjoying a beach getaway with friends on the Gulf of Mexico. But by the time the couple returned to their Lake Jackson home after a relaxing stay, Lance was acting strangely and talking out of his head. Kelly, who earned a doctorate in physical therapy and has worked decades in health care, knew her husband's altered mental status demanded immediate attention at the local emergency room.

The initial CT scan forever changed their lives. Lance had a mysterious mass in his brain.

Kelly insisted Lance be transferred to Houston Methodist, where years before Dr. David Baskin had treated her for herniated discs on her neck.

"It was divine intervention," Kelly recalls. "Had I not had all my neck issues, I wouldn't have known about Dr. Baskin."

Within a few days, Lance underwent eight hours of brain surgery to remove a lemon-sized tumor in his left frontal lobe.

His prognosis was dismal. The tumor was bigger than Dr. Baskin expected, and already had crossed into the right side of the brain. Surgery was only able to remove 90% of the mass because any more would cause unacceptable deficits. The tumor was a glioblastoma, the deadliest of adult brain tumors and one that carries a life expectancy of eight to 15 months, many of which are usually miserable.

Looking for hope and a chance to give back

Kelly describes Lance before his brain tumor as a sweet man — low key, laid back, easy to deal with, handled everything with a sense of humor. He never wanted anyone to be burdened. "He was always going to take care of everybody else," Kelly says.

An Aggie, he worked as a construction engineer designing chemical plants — and could fix anything, like the 1980s TV series hero MacGyver, says his family. He loved to hunt and fish and spend time with friends and family. His attitude about his cancer: "He always felt he was going to kick it," Kelly remembers.

Once diagnosed, the couple asked that Lance be considered for any clinical trials that might help future patients. Dr. Baskin offered his gene therapy clinical trial, one that has kept a number of glioblastoma patients alive far beyond their predicted life expectancy. It uses a common cold virus to deliver active herpes virus DNA directly into brain cancer cells, then a drug usually employed to treat cold sores (caused by a herpes virus) to attack the cancer cells.

"Gene therapy gave us hope," Kelly says.

For several months, Lance did great. He completed his chemo and radiation therapy and returned to work, though fatigue was a problem. But the gene therapy was working. Lance remained under the care of Dr. Baskin and Houston Methodist neurooncologist Dr. Ivo Tremont.

"We were dealt a crappy hand, but we woke up every day and said, 'How can we make this day count,' " Kelly says. They were quality months, a time Kelly remains "eternally grateful" for.

Glioblastoma, however, is an insidious enemy. Treatment outcomes have remained static for decades, and life expectancy has shown little improvement despite 40-plus years of research. In August 2019, an MRI scan on Lance's brain lit up — the tumor had progressively gotten larger and returned with a vengeance.

The Peak Center — always looking for new frontiers

Dr. Baskin doesn't believe in giving up on glioblastoma patients. His team in the Peak Center has a myriad of research projects dedicated to curing glioblastomas, which included one more possibility for the Mobleys.

The Peak Center team of Dr. Baskin, Dr. Santosh Helekar and Dr. Martyn Sharpe had demonstrated in the laboratory that oscillating magnetic fields produced strong anticancer effects in cell cultures and in mouse models given human glioblastoma cells. Dr. Helekar constructed a helmet to adapt the technology to humans. With internal and FDA approval for compassionate use, the team was ready to go.

" 'I'm in,' " was Lance's reply, Kelly says. "To heck with how he felt; he wanted to give back."

Lance started the oncomagnetic treatment at Houston Methodist just to be safe. After he passed with flying colors, Dr. Baskin's team taught Kelly how to operate the helmet at home, two to three treatments a day on weekdays, weekends off. Some initial issues with blood pressure and blood sugar were solved and once the magnetic fields and times were adjusted, the results proved incredible.

MRI scans showed the tumor was rapidly shrinking.

"He was doing great, and everything was going well," Kelly says. "He would get back-to-back MRIs every Friday, and all of us were giddy and excited." The tumor continued to shrink.

The final gift

One hot summer afternoon, Kelly heard a noise in the garage and rushed out to find Lance had fallen, his head having struck the concrete floor, his eyes glazed over. But even then his sense of humor was still working, Kelly says. As she spoke with the 9-1-1 dispatcher, Lance said in the background, 'We have issues.'

It was a sad turn of events in his battle. From the beginning, Lance thought he was going to defeat glioblastoma, but the damage caused by the closed head injury forced an end to the magnetic helmet treatment. He returned home to hospice care, during which time he had 51 days to share with Kelly, his three adult children, parents, in-laws, family and friends. He couldn't walk any longer, and he knew additional treatment wouldn't make a difference, Kelly says. "He knew this was it."

But Lance had one more mission before he died.

Months earlier when he started the clinical trials, Drs. Baskin and Tremont had asked about the possibility of Lance donating his brain to the Peak Center so researchers could learn more about glioblastoma. His response: "Absolutely. If I can help anyone, then yes."

Dr. Baskin directly assessed Lance's brain, and he and his team received the autopsy report. The tumor had a large hole blasted right through it — over a third of the mass was dead and, in fact, most of the tumor was dead or dying.

Dr. Baskin and his team have since published two peer-reviewed studies on the technology, including a case report about Lance's response to treatment, and they have received interest from researchers and patients around the world.

"This is the most powerful noninvasive glioblastoma treatment in history with great potential," Dr. Baskin says. "Thanks to Lance Mobley and his family, we know the treatment is safe and we can continue to use it to help more glioblastoma patients. Imagine treating brain cancer in the future without radiation or chemotherapy!"

"We had 26 months of Lance's good quality life," Kelly says. "Now Lance is giving back to so many."

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