Researchers, including one of Indian-origin, have shown that a next-generation cell-based immunotherapy may offer new hope in the fight against the most aggressive form of brain cancer called glioma. Despite improvements in surgical procedures, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, this type of brain tumour is still notoriously hard to treat — less than 10 percent of patients survive beyond five years. Cell-based immunotherapy involves the injection of a therapeutic anticancer vaccine that stimulates the patient’s immune system to attack the tumour. Thus far, the results of this type of immunotherapy have been mildly promising. However, Abhishek Garg and colleagues from the KU University of Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium have now found a novel way to produce more effective cell-based anticancer vaccines. The researchers induced a specific type of cell death in brain cancer cells from mice. The dying cancer cells were then incubated together with dendritic cells, which play a vital role in the immune system.
The researchers discovered that this type of cancer cell killing releases ‘danger signals’ that fully activate the dendritic cells. ‘We re-injected the activated dendritic cells into the mice as a therapeutic vaccine,’ one of the researchers Patrizia Agostinis, professor at KU Leuven, explained. ‘That vaccine alerted the immune system to the presence of dangerous cancer cells in the body. As a result, the immune system could recognize them and start attacking the brain tumour,’ Agostinis noted. Combined with chemotherapy, this novel cell-based immunotherapy drastically increased the survival rates of mice afflicted with brain tumours. Almost 50 percent of the mice were completely cured. For the sake of comparison: none of the mice treated with chemotherapy alone became long-term survivors.