Promising results in world-first trials for aggressive brain cancer treatment

A major breakthrough in the treatment of aggressive brain cancer called Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), using immunology has been made by scientists at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) is the most common malignant brain cancer, diagnosed in about 800 Australians every year with, unfortunately very low five year survival rates.

The research used immunology to attack the cancer, and found that of the study participants lived much longer than the six-month prognosis normally given to a patient with recurrent GBM. Some patients showed no signs of disease progression at all.

Study leader, Professor Khanna said, “Survival rates for this aggressive cancer have barely changed in decades. There is an urgent clinical need for new treatments.”

“If this treatment can buy patients more time, then that is a big step forward.”

The study is based on previous research which found that many brain tumours carry traces of the virus ‘cytomegalovirus’ (CMV).

Professor Khanna and her team developed a technique to modify a patient’s T-cells (immune cells) in the laboratory and effectively “train” them to attack the virus. These cells were then returned to the patient’s body.  When the killer T-cells destroyed the CMV virus, they also destroyed the cancer.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that immunotherapy – manipulating a person’s own immune system – is a rich new frontier for cancer treatment,” Professor Khanna said.

The Phase I trials were conducted at Brisbane’s Wesley Hospital, under the leadership of neurosurgeon Professor David Walker.

“This new branch of therapy lets us offer some hope that the future is going to be brighter, that new and innovative treatments mean things will hopefully improve in the future.” Said Professor Walker

The research team is now keen to begin the next phase of trials, involving patients at an earlier stage of the cancer’s development.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation is proud to have provided over $6 million in funding to QIMR Berghofer Medical research Institute since 2002.

This study is published online in the prestigious US journal Cancer Research.