First patient to undergo poliovirus therapy for GBM dies eight years after treatment

Stephanie Hopper, the first patient in the world to undergo an investigational therapy using poliovirus to treat the most aggressive from of brain cancer, died on March 26, 2020, eight years after undergoing treatment. She was 28.

Stephanie was only 20 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma, and sought treatment at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke. Given only a few months to live, Stephanie underwent surgery to remove the tumor, followed by chemotherapy, bevacizumab, and radiation. Unfortunately, it returned, and prognosis after recurrence is dismal.

In 2012, Stephanie had the courage and faith to take part in the first phase of a research trial at Duke, during which a modified poliovirus was injected directly into her brain tumor. She knew she was a part of the bigger picture … to find the cure for brain cancer. The investigational approach was pioneered by Matthias Gromeier, MD, a professor of neurosurgery, medicine, and molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke. 

This treatment afforded Stephanie eight more years, which she lived to the fullest. She married her longtime soulmate Matthew Hopper in 2018 and went on to complete nursing school.  Stephanie worked as a nurse at Prisma Health Greenville Memorial Hospital in Greenville, SC, ultimately honoring and giving back to the incredible nursing community that took such great care of her throughout her brain cancer journey.  

Duke’s Annick Desjardins, MD, was Stephanie’s neurooncologist, “From the first day Stephanie and I discussed the genetically modified poliovirus, and the fact that she would be the first human treated with it, she understood what it meant to science and to glioblastoma patients. Stephanie took her role very seriously. She dedicated herself to help others, not just glioblastoma patients like her, but every patient who had the chance to have her as a nurse, sometimes to the detriment of her own health. It was a privilege to know her. Stephanie’s energy and grace will continue to push me in our quest to conquer this tumor.”   

Tom O’Donnell, a brain cancer patient at Duke, said, “It was my brain tumor that allowed me to meet Stephanie and for this I am grateful. She showed us what brave looks like. She blazed the path for the rest of us to follow. We will continue to fight the good fight and push relentlessly forward toward the cure.”


Photo by Jared Lazarus