Brain cancer breakthrough provides hope for future treatments

Brain cancer breakthrough provides hope for future treatments

Illuminate newsletter header, Winter 2021
June 2021

Associate Professor Misty Jenkins
Associate Professor Misty Jenkins is working on an advanced
immunotherapy approach to treat glioblastoma.

A novel approach to immunotherapy design could pave the way for new treatments for people with an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma.

Using specifically designed receptors, researchers were able to completely clear brain cancer tumours in preclinical models, using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy.

CAR T cell therapy is one of the greatest advancements in cancer therapy in decades and has already proven effective in treating blood cancers such as B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and adult diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Brain cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in children and adults under 40. Adults diagnosed with glioblastoma have a five-year survival rate of just five per cent.

Associate Professor Misty Jenkins, who led the research, said the results were promising.

“This approach of immunotherapy harnesses the patient’s white blood cells to recognise and destroy their own cancer,” she said.

“Current CAR T cell approaches have relied on repurposing existing antibodies. We have created our own, high-affinity specific receptors, which enable them to bind very tightly to the tumour cells. We found this approach completely cleared the tumour in preclinical models of brain cancer.”

Clinical trials on horizon

Associate Professor Jenkins said the research team was now looking to progress the ‘proof of concept’ research through to clinical trials. “CAR T cell immunotherapy is still very new, but it has enormous potential, and we are excited about its future applications,” she said.

“This won’t necessarily be the silver bullet for brain cancer, but I envision this treatment could potentially be used in combination with other therapies in the future, offering hope to people diagnosed with this insidious disease.”

The research was supported by grants from Carrie’s Beanies 4 Brain Cancer Foundation and the Robert Connor Dawes Foundation. With this support, Associate Professor Jenkins spearheaded a new immunotherapy brain cancer program at WEHI, enabling researchers to make further advances and breakthroughs for brain cancers in both adults and children.

“We now have the techniques, tools and platforms established to advance immunotherapies and other brain cancer-tailored approaches, allowing us to very rapidly test and translate these into the clinic,” she said.

In conjunction with this research, the team is also working on developing further enhanced CAR T cell candidates, which will be the first of their kind, paving the way for novel therapies for patients with solid tumours.


Super Content: 
Photograph of Associate Professor Misty Jenkins

A novel approach to immunotherapy design could pave the way for new treatments for people with an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma.

Visualisation of SARS-CoV-2

WEHI researchers are using extremely small antibodies that occur naturally in alpacas – called nanobodies – to develop biologics that could prevent the COVID-19 coronavirus from binding to human cells – the first step in the virus infection cycle.