Health Team

UNC-developed therapy could provide new treatment for brain cancer

Posted March 15, 2018 5:55 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 11:11 a.m. EDT

— Brain cancer called Glioblastoma can be a deadly diagnosis and surgery, along with other standard treatments, doesn’t offer patients much hope beyond a few years. Now, researchers at UNC Hospitals believe a new cell therapy, proven effective with some blood cancers, may also work for brain cancer.

In a Durham lab, a patient’s own immune cells, or T-cells, are genetically modified, multiplied and reinfused into the body to hunt down and kill cancer. UNC researchers found success using the concept to flight blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. Now, they are focused on solid tumors.

“By solid tumors, we mean pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer and brain cancer as well,” said Dr. Gianpietro Dotti with the UNC immunology department.

Dotti and Dr. Barbara Salvoldo said results with brain tumors in small animal models are very promising.

They said with brain cancer, certain antigens on the surface of the tumor cells turns the immune response away, which is why the body’s T-cells need to be re-engineered to recognize the tumor cells.

“It’s really an amazing advance,” said Dr. Simon Khagi, a neurosurgeon with the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Khagi said the process involves building a receptor onto the patients T-cells to selectively attack tumor cells.

Doctors now have to prove the procedure would be safe.

“I’m confident that once we’ve established safety, we’ll be able to move pretty quickly to later phase trials,” Khagi said.

The team will soon apply for FDA approval to begin human trials.

“And then start treating the patients and we hope to do it next year,” Dotti said.

The “clean facility” where patient’s immune cells are modified and grown is located just off Interstate 40 in Durham. It is one of a handful of similar facilities, including ones in New York, Philadelphia, Maryland, Tampa and Houston.