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Promise and Progress - Recruiting Cancer Immunity

Promise & Progress - A Spectrum of Achievements

Recruiting Cancer Immunity

Date: January 15, 2015

PLOS One, July 11, 2014

A three-part treatment of glioblastoma brain cancer in animal models successfully generated an immune response and increased survival time.  The treatment involves a novel combination of three existing therapies. They are highly focused radiation therapy and two types of immune therapies—one that mobilizes immune cells and another that removes protective immune cell restraints that cancer cells use to stave off an immune attack. 

The approach is part of ongoing research aimed at employing the immune system to attack cancer.  “We’re trying to find that optimal balance between pushing and pulling the immune system to kill cancer,” says Charles Drake, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of oncology, immunology, and urology.   In this study, the proteins released by tumor cells when they are killed by radiation are used to bait immune cells, and the immune therapies are used to advance and augment the immune response against the brain cancer.

The researchers also observed a vaccine effect.  When brain tumor cells were later reintroduced under the skin of mice, the immune system recognized and attacked the cancer cells.  This type of immune memory is an exciting finding because it demonstrates the potential to engage the immune system to keep cancer at bay indefinitely.

Drake collaborated with Michael Lim, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program and Metastatic Brain Tumor Center. Studies to affirm the value of the combined therapy are ongoing, and a number of clinical trials for brain tumors are in development.

The WW Smith Charitable Trust and individual patient donors funded the research.  Full disclosure of patents and corporate support are available at

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