Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research have discovered a potential new method for treating brain cancer using specially engineered immune cells.
According to a university press release, personalized immune cells were engineered by UPenn scientists in order to seek out and attack a type of deadly brain cancer, and were found to be both safe and effective at controlling tumor growth in mice that were treated with these modified cells.
“A series of Penn trials that began in 2010 have found that engineered T cells have an effect in treating some blood cancers, but expanding this approach into solid tumors has posed challenges,” said the study’s senior author, Marcela Maus, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Hematology/Oncology in Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center. “A challenging aspect of applying engineered T cell technology is finding the best targets that are found on tumors but not normal tissues. This is the key to making this kind of T cell therapy both effective and safe.”
In collaboration with Hideho Okada, MD, PhD and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, the study details the design and use of T cells engineered to target a mutation found in about 30 percent of patients with glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer.
“Patients with this type of brain cancer have a very poor prognosis. Many survive less than 18 months following their diagnosis,” said M. Sean Grady, MD, the Charles Harrison Frazier Professor and chair of the department of Neurosurgery. “We’ve brought together experts in an array of fields to develop an innovative personalized immunotherapy for certain brain cancers.”
The treatment involved in this study includes removing some of a patient’s T-cells using a process similar to dialysis. The T-cells are then reprogrammed into “hunter” T-cells to find cancer and infused back into the patient’s body to find and control tumor growth.
After conducting several successful trials in mice, the researchers will now move on to human trials by studying two separate groups of 6 adult patients. One arm of 6 patients whose cancers have returned after receiving other therapies, and one arm of 6 patients who are newly diagnosed with the disease and still have 1 cm or more of tumor tissue remaining after undergoing surgery to remove it.
Funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, this study represents just one of hundreds of important life science research projects currently being conducted at UPenn. Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.
Some key funding stats from UPenn:
- The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years.
- The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.
- The University of Pennsylvania received more than $815 million in total research awards in the 2013 fiscal year.
- The University of Pennsylvania recently received $25 million to establish The Basser Research Center.
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Last year, the BioResearch Product Faire™ Event at the University of Pennsylvania attracted 401 attendees. Of these attendees, 116 were purchasing agents, professors and post docs, and 76 were lab managers. These attendees came from 46 different research buildings and 55 on-campus departments.
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