Scientists from the University of Virginia (UVA) have announced a ‘game-changing’ breakthrough in the fight to treat deadly brain tumours.
Focused on two types of brain cancer that are largely incurable – diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), and glioblastoma – their research could also lead to better outcomes for other types of solid tumours.
Researchers at the UVA’s Cancer Center and Children’s Hospital have been seeking to enhance an existing cancer therapy called CAR T-cell immunotherapy, which has been used successfully against blood cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma.
The process involves extracting T cells from patients’ blood, genetically modifying them, and infusing them back into the body, where they then recognize and attack cancer cells.
Now UVA Health’s research has identified specific vulnerabilities in DIPG and glioblastoma cells that could make CAR T-cell immunotherapy effective against them.
When tested in mice, the new approach led tumours to shrink or disappear completely, with the weaponised immune cells proving long-lasting.
The tested treatment also improved lab mice’s survival rates, and avoided the side effects which have previously impeded its use in humans. It was particularly effective against DIPG – a highly invasive tumour that threads itself through vital areas of the brain.
Scientists have been encouraged by their initial results, which have been published in the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer. They hope their findings could have wider implications for the treatment of solid tumours, which, so far, have resisted CAR T-cell therapy.
Researcher Dr Daniel “Trey” Lee, paediatric oncologist and pioneer of CAR T-cell immunotherapy, said the study represents a ‘huge leap forward’ in the fight against cancer.
“We have already begun to see if we can use this same therapy to treat other tumors, like melanoma, breast cancer and the pediatric muscle tumor rhabdomyosarcoma, in the lab.
“This CAR T-cell therapy could be a game-changer for deadly brain tumors, much like a different CAR T-cell product shifted the paradigm for how we treat patients with relapsed leukaemia and lymphoma.”
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