CIRM funds many projects seeking to better understand brain tumors and to translate those discoveries into new therapies.
A type of brain tumor called a high-grade glioma, or malignant brain tumor, is among the hardest tumors to treat. An estimated 17,000 Americans will die from brain tumors in 20171.
Gliomas are particularly difficult to treat because they are made up of tumor cells that spread throughout the brain, not remaining in a single area where they could be removed through surgery or targeted by radiation. Chemotherapy has not been effective at eradicating all of the glioma cells.
Stem cell approaches look promising for treating gliomas. Certain types of stem cell tend to migrate toward the tumor cells wherever they are in the brain. CIRM-funded researchers are trying to genetically engineer those stem cells to produce cancer-killing molecules. Transplanted into the brain, these cells would seek out the cancer cells and deliver their therapy directly where it is needed. This approach could significantly decrease toxic side-effects to normal tissues, preserving or improving the patient's quality of life.
Clinical Stage Programs
City of Hope
A team at the City of Hope led by Dr. Christine Brown is pursuing a Phase 1 trial targeting an aggressive brain cancer called malignant glioma. City of Hope will re-engineer a patient’s immune system central memory T cells (TCM cells) to express chimeric antigen receptors (CAR). These CAR-T cells will recognize a molecular marker on the surface of glioma cancer stem cells and kill the tumors. Dr. Brown’s award to pursue CAR-T therapy for solid cancers comes at an exciting and opportune time with the recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the first CAR-T therapy, called Kymriah, for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a deadly form of blood cancer.
City of Hope
This clinical trial is testing a therapy to treat brain metastases that came from breast cancers expressing high levels of a protein called HER2. The therapy consists of a genetically-modified version of the patient’s own T cells, which are an immune system cell that can destroy foreign or abnormal cells. The T cells are modified with a protein called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that recognizes the tumor protein HER2. These modified T cells (CAR-T cells) are then infused into the patient’s brain where they are expected to detect and destroy the HER2-expressing tumors in the brain.
This trial is targeting six proteins that are found on the surface of cancer stem cells in glioblastoma, a brain cancer. Immune cells from the patient’s own immune system are exposed to fragments of these cancer cell proteins in the lab. When returned to the patient’s body, these immune system cells can now help the patient’s immune system identify, and then hopefully kill, the cancer stem cells responsible for the tumor’s recurrence and growth. This Phase 3 trial was suspended in June 2017 due to lack of sufficient financial resources.
CIRM Grants Targeting Brain Tumors
CIRM Brain Tumor Stem Cell Videos
News and Information
- National Cancer Institute: Brain Tumor Facts
- Find a clinical trial near you: NIH Clinical Trials database
- American Brain Tumor Association
- National Brain Tumor Society
- The Brain Tumor Foundation
- Family Caregiver Alliance
- National Family Caregivers Association