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Boosting the immune system to combat glioblastoma 

Fast facts

  • Official title: Using brain-derived and micro-targeted interleukin-2 to boost CAR-T cell therapy for aggressive primary brain tumours
  • Lead researcher: Professor Michael Brown
  • Where: Central Adelaide Local Health Network, Australia
  • When: November 2023 – October 2025 
  • Cost: £150,000 over 2 years
  • Research type: Glioblastoma (High grade), Academic, Immunotherapy
  • Grant round: Expanding Theories

Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common aggressive brain tumour in adults. The prognosis for patients with a GBM is poor due to several factors including tumour recurrence, lack of effective treatments, poor responses to existing treatment, and suppression of the immune system. 

What is it?

CAR-T cell therapy harnesses the power of the immune system by using T cells (a type of immune cell) taken from the patient. These T cells are then engineered to identify and destroy a specific target. CAR-T cell therapies have become an effective treatment for some types of leukaemia and lymphoma, and researchers are now working towards adapting this approach for glioblastoma.  

For this project, two international teams in Cambridge, UK, and Adelaide, Australia, are combining their knowledge and expertise to progress CAR-T cell therapy to treat glioblastoma. To make CAR-T cell therapy effective against glioblastoma cells, they are using an immune molecule known as interleukin-2, or IL-2. Interleukins are messengers in the immune system which can stimulate immune responses.  

In early laboratory studies, the research teams have found that IL-2 can boost the effectiveness of CAR-T cell therapy against glioblastoma cells. There are already clinical trials underway in Australia testing the effects of CAR-T cell therapy in children with gliomas – the researchers are now hopeful that the addition of IL-2 will make it even more effective. 

Why is it important?

Glioblastoma cells create a protective environment around the tumour, which prevents the immune system from doing its job of killing tumour cells. This is one of the reasons that treatments for this type of tumour are difficult to develop. If researchers can engineer CAR-T cell therapy to overcome this immune suppression, it could lead to new ways of treating glioblastoma. 

Current treatments for Glioblastoma are ineffective, and this situation has not improved in almost 20 years. We aspire to change this, by developing new therapies that go beyond traditional cancer treatment approaches. To achieve this, two international teams are coming together for this project in a new collaboration.

Prof. Michael Brown 

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Headshot of Professor Michael Brown, who is researching boosting the immune system to combat glioblastoma

Professor Michael Brown

Professor Michael Brown is a specialist physician in clinical immunology and medical oncology and a pathologist in laboratory immunology. He is the Head of Translational Oncology at the Centre for Cancer Biology, a Senior Consultant Medical Oncologist at Royal Adelaide Hospital, and the Director of the Royal Adelaide Hospital Cancer Clinical Trials Unit.