One-two punch designed to knock out most dangerous brain cancer

University of Michigan Health System doctors have started testing a unique new approach to fighting brain tumors -- one that delivers a one-two punch designed to knock out the most dangerous brain cancer.

The experimental approach, based on U-M research, delivers two different genes directly into the brains of patients following the operation to remove the bulk of their tumors.

The idea: trigger immune activity within the brain itself to kill remaining tumor cells -- the ones neurosurgeons can't take out, which make this type of tumor so dangerous.

It's the first time this gene therapy approach is being tried in humans, after more than a decade of research in experimental models.

One of the genes is designed to kill tumor cells directly, and is turned on when the patient takes a certain drug. The other gene spurs the body's own immune system to attack remaining cancer cells. Both are delivered into brain cells via a harmless virus.

The Phase I clinical trial has already enrolled two patients who have tolerated the gene delivery without complications. All patients in the study must have a presumptive diagnosis of WHO grade 3 or 4 malignant primary glioma, such as glioblastoma multiforme; patients must not have been treated yet by any therapy. They must also meet other criteria for inclusion in the trial.

More patients will be able to enroll at a pace of about one every three weeks, through a careful selection process. In addition to surgery and gene therapy at U-M, each will receive standard chemotherapy and radiation therapy as well as follow-up assessments for up to two years.

"We're very pleased to see our years of research lead to a clinical trial, because based on our prior work we believe this combination of cell-killing and immune-stimulating approaches holds important promise," says principal investigator Pedro Lowenstein, M.D., Ph.D., the U-M Medical School Department of Neurosurgery professor who has co-led the basic research effort to develop and test the strategy.

Co-leader Maria Castro, Ph.D., notes that the patients who agree to take part in the Phase I trial will be the first in the world to help establish the safety of the approach in humans. "Without them, and without our partners on the U-M Neurosurgery team, and donors to the Phase One Foundation that support our work, we wouldn't be able to take this important step in testing this novel therapeutic approach."

Source:

University of Michigan Health System

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