Brain tumour breakthrough

16 March 2017
Posted by Chris Smith.

A new way to tackle brain tumours has been tested successfully in mice by researchers in the US.

The team at Stanford, California, have found a way to trigger the immune system to selectively attack cancer cells but leave healthy brain tissue untouched.

The discovery hinges on a signal called CD47, which brain tumours display on their surfaces.

This is an immune off-switch, which sends out a “don’t eat me” signal that prevents the rogue cells from being destroyed. But by injecting into the bloodstream an artificially-produced antibody to block this CD47 signal, mice engineered to carry otherwise lethal human paediatric brain cancers could be saved.

The animals were given on-going treatment with the drug though, so it's unclear what would have happened if the antibody therapy had been withdrawn. If the tumour was merely suppressed, but not eliminated, by the new therapy, then ceasing treatment could see the disease return.

However, Samuel Cheshier, a senior author on the paper in Science Translational Medicine, hints that, in humans, the benefits of the treatment may be even more profound. "In these engineered mice, only parts of the immune system are working. In a human case, with a fully intact immune system, we may see a more powerful, synergistic effect as the other parts of the immune response cooperate."

The team are currently embarking on a full clinical trial, which is in its initial stages. "We should see whether this is working within 1-2 years," says Cheshier.

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