Brain tumour

Improved cell therapy to benefit patients with brain cancer

Wednesday 03 Feb 21
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by Tom Nervil

With the support of Independent Research Fund Denmark, researchers from DTU Health Tech are developing a new type of cell therapy with the potential to save the lives of patients with otherwise incurable brain tumours.

Every year, almost 300 Danes are diagnosed with the most malignant form of brain cancer, glioblastoma. After they are diagnosed, patients have an average life expectancy of about 14 months. Only 10 per cent live longer than five years. 

Now, a new research project supported by Independent Research Fund Denmark aims to increase the survival rates of patients diagnosed with glioblastoma. The therapy, called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, is intended to harness the power of the immune system by genetically re-programming immune cells so they can recognize and kill tumour cells.

 “This is done by harvesting specific immune cells, T cells, from patients and genetically modifying them to produce the immune receptor CAR which targets cancer.  So when you put the modified T cells back, they can find the tumour cells and kill them,” says Maria Ormhøj, a postdoc at DTU Health Tech.

This is a completely new cancer treatment which has enormous potential. It has previously been shown to have a 90 per cent response rate in children with incurable blood cancer. But the big challenge when it comes to brain cancer is getting the T cells to only attack cancer cells. 

"If we succeed, we’ll have a really effective and safe treatment strategy with healing potential for patients with otherwise incurable brain tumours."
Maria Ormhøj

Strengthens the immune system

“It’s hard to find a good target for the CAR receptor, since many of the targets you want to hit on the tumour cell are also on healthy tissue. This means that you can potentially attack healthy tissue, and that can be fatal,” says Maria Ormhøj.

Therefore, the project aims to develop a new platform for producing more efficient CAR T cells. The researchers will also develop a brand-new type of CAR T cells called TRUCKs, which do not directly attack the cancer cells, but instead stimulate other immune cells to attack the tumour. 

“We want to use the entire human immune system to generate a response against the tumour and improve the CAR T cell therapy, something that hasn’t been done before. If we succeed, we’ll have a really effective and safe treatment strategy with healing potential for patients with otherwise incurable brain tumours,” says Maria Ormhøj.

The researchers hope the project yields results that can be used to treat patients within the next five years. Looking ahead, the project is also very likely to benefit other cancer patients with solid tumours.

Fact

About the project:

The research project, which will run for two years, is a broad collaboration between researchers from DTU and the University of Heidelberg in Germany, as well as a physician in the pathology department at Odense University Hospital and a neuroscientist from Harvard Medical School in the US.  

About Maria Ormhøj:

Postdoc Maria Ormhøj from the Department of Health Technology at DTU leads the research project “Dual ImmPACT: Production of CAR T cells with superior therapeutic efficacy against glioblastoma”, which is intended to develop a new form of immunotherapy with the potential to cure patients with glioblastoma.