Evolutionary basis of a new gene- and immune-therapeutic approach for the treatment of malignant brain tumors: from mice to clinical trials for glioma patients

Clin Immunol. 2018 Apr;189:43-51. doi: 10.1016/j.clim.2017.07.006. Epub 2017 Jul 15.


Glioma cells are one of the most aggressive and malignant tumors. Following initial surgery, and radio-chemotherapy they progress rapidly, so that patients' median survival remains under two years. They invade throughout the brain, which makes them difficult to treat, and are universally lethal. Though total resection is always attempted it is not curative. Standard of care in 2016 comprises surgical resection, radiotherapy and chemotherapy (temozolomide). Median survival is currently ~14-20months post-diagnosis though it can be higher in high complexity medical university centers, or during clinical trials. Why the immune system fails to recognize the growing brain tumor is not completely understood. We believe that one reason for this failure is that the brain lacks cells that perform the role that dendritic cells serve in other organs. The lack of functional dendritic cells from the brain causes the brain to be deficient in priming systemic immune responses to glioma antigens. To overcome this drawback we reconstituted the brain immune system for it to initiate and prime anti-glioma immune responses from within the brain. To achieve brain immune reconstitution adenoviral vectors are injected into the resection cavity or remaining tumor. One adenoviral vector expresses the HSV-1 derived thymidine kinase which converts ganciclovir into phospho-ganciclovir which becomes cytotoxic to dividing cells. The second adenovirus expresses the cytokine fms-like tyrosine kinase 3 ligand (Flt3L). Flt3L differentiates precursors into dendritic cells and acts as a chemokine for dendritic cells. This results in HSV-1/ganciclovir killing of tumor cells, and the release of tumor antigens, which are then taken up by dendritic cells recruited to the brain tumor microenvironment by Flt3L. Concomitant release of HMGB1, a TLR2 agonist that activates dendritic cells, stimulates dendritic cells loaded with glioma antigens to migrate to the cervical lymph nodes to prime a systemic CD8+ T cytotoxic killing of brain tumor cells. This induced immune response causes glioma-specific cytotoxicity, induces immunological memory, and does not cause brain toxicity or autoimmunity. A Phase I Clinical Trial, to test our hypothesis in human patients, was opened in December 2013 (see: NCT01811992, Combined Cytotoxic and Immune-Stimulatory Therapy for Glioma, at ClinicalTrials.gov). This trial is a first in human trial to test whether the re-engineering of the brain immune system can serve to treat malignant brain tumors. The long and winding road from the laboratory to the clinical trial follows below.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / radiation effects
  • Brain / surgery
  • Brain Neoplasms / genetics
  • Brain Neoplasms / immunology
  • Brain Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Drug Therapy / methods
  • Genetic Therapy / methods*
  • Glioma / genetics
  • Glioma / immunology
  • Glioma / therapy*
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Mice
  • Survival Analysis

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01811992