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Fighting recurrent Glioblastomas with immunotherapy

Fast facts

  • Official title: Elimination of recurrent glioblastoma using tumour-collagen targeted IL-12
  • Lead researcher: Dr. Jun Ishihara
  • Where: Imperial College London
  • When: September 2023 – August 2028
  • Cost: £1.5 million over 5 years
  • Research type: Glioblastoma (High grade), Immunotherapy, Academic, Quest for cures
  • Award type: Quest for cures

Glioblastomas (GBM) are the most common type of aggressive brain tumour found in adults.

They are classified as grade 4 in the tumour grading system used by the World Health Organization. The current standard treatments for GBM typically involve surgery to remove the tumour, followed by a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. However, GBM tumours frequently recur, and the recurring tumours are more aggressive and resistant to available therapies.

What is it?

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment which harnesses the immune system to fight diseases, and has been used in the treatment of many different types of cancer. Generally, this kind of treatment involves stimulating or restoring the immune response against cancer cells. However, GBMs are often resistant to this type of therapy, as it is difficult to ensure therapeutics can cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the tumour.

Dr Ishihara and his team are using a novel polymer nanotechnology to engineer a drug which could be used to prevent recurrent glioblastomas. The treatment uses a type of interleukin, known as interleukin-12 or IL-12. Interleukins are important for our immune system, they are helpful messengers in the body which tells the immune system how to fight diseases.

IL-12 has long been studied as a possible immunotherapy as it can stimulate a strong immune response against tumours – encouraging the body to kill these cells. Dr Ishihara and his team have adapted IL-12 to ensure it is safe and able to cross the blood-brain barrier to reach tumours in the brain. So far, experimental models have shown extremely promising results in its effectiveness and safety, extending survival by up to 260%.

This project will continue Dr Ishihara’s work on IL-12, and includes a stage of trialling the treatment in pet dogs with naturally occurring gliomas. Gliomas in dogs bear many similarities to humans, and have an equally poor prognosis as well as being similar in structure. Researchers will work alongside a team of vets to run a trial testing this treatment in pet dogs, with their owners’ consent, to potentially offer them a treatment option where there are currently none. Results will allow scientists to observe the benefits and efficacy of the treatment and lay the foundations for taking the therapy to human clinical trials.

CBD-IL-12 may extend the survival of brain tumour patients due to shrinkage of tumours and prevention of recurrence. This research will ultimately lead to the development of therapies for recurrent GBM patients who currently do not have enough treatment options.

– Dr. Jun Ishihara

Why it’s important

Currently, there are very few treatment options for GBM patients, and recurrent tumours are fatal. There is a desperate need for safe, effective treatments to offer those with recurring GBM. Dr Ishihara’s work already has a strong foundation of promising data from his work with experimental models, and this project will allow his team to build upon this work with the potential to take the treatment through to phase 1 clinical trials in humans.

Research is just one other way your regular gift can make a difference

Research is the only way we will discover kinder, more effective treatments and, ultimately, stamp out brain tumours – for good! However, brain tumours are complex and research in to them takes a great deal of time and money.

Across the UK, over 100,000 families are facing the overwhelming diagnosis of a brain tumour and it is only through the generosity of people like you can we continue to help them.

But, by setting up a regular gift – as little as £2 per month – you can ensure that families no longer face this destructive disease.

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Dr. Jun Ishihara

Dr. Jun Ishihara is a Lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London. His laboratory works in the field of protein engineering, in research areas including cancer immunotherapy, autoimmunity, and regenerative medicine.