This project is jointly funded by Sparks and charity partner Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity through the National Research Funding Call.
Each year in the UK, around 30 children are diagnosed with a rare type of brain tumour known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). Despite significant research into better treatments for DIPG, the average survival after diagnosis is just 9-15 months.
DIPG is the most common cause of brain tumour death in children. In most cases surgery is not an option due to the tumour’s growth around vital brain tissue, and radiotherapy can only control symptoms of the disease, not cure it. New treatments for these children are urgently needed.
The immune system is the body’s natural defense against infection. Some of the most powerful ‘soldiers’ in our immune system are T-cells, which move around the body finding and killing infected cells. Because cancer affects our body’s own cells, the immune system sees these cells as ‘friendly’ and does not attack them. Dr Karin Straathof wants to ‘reprogramme’ T-cells, priming them to hunt down and attack DIPG cancer cells.
To do this, Dr Straathof will carry out laboratory work to look for unique ‘markers’ on DIPG cells that clearly identify them as being cancerous. She will then use cutting-edge techniques to alter the instructions (DNA) inside T-cells, priming them to recognise these markers and attack DIPG cells. By the end of this project, Dr Straathof’s hopes to develop an effective T-cell treatment for DIPG, which could then be tested in a clinical trial.
Dr Straathof aims to develop the first ever potentially curative treatment for children with DIPG. This would offer hope, for the first time, that diagnosis with DIPG would not have to mean a rapid decline in health and an early death. If successful, Dr Straathof has plans to apply for clinical trial funding immediately, ensuring that the treatment reaches the children who need it at soon as possible.
Arming T-cells with the ability to hunt down cancer has already been hugely successful in treating one kind of childhood leukemia (read the story on Wired). Proving its promise in brain cancer could open the door to further research and new T-cell treatments for other childhood cancers.
Arming the body’s immune cells to hunt down difficult-to-treat childhood brain tumours
Researcher: Dr Karin Straathof