Video | Business Headlines | Internet | Science | Scientific Ethics | Technology | Search


A new vaccine therapy for brain cancer


29 November 2012

A new vaccine therapy for brain cancer

What do you do when you are faced with terminally ill patients that want to trial a promising immunotherapy but are too sick to provide the immune cells necessary for it to work? If you are Wellington-based Neurosurgeon Mr Martin Hunn, you head back to the laboratory and find another way.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a highly aggressive brain tumour, with an extremely poor prognosis.

The standard treatments for GBM are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but the tumour rapidly becomes resistant to these therapies, making it ultimately fatal in almost all cases. There is an urgent need to develop novel therapies for this disease.

“We hypothesised that by acting through entirely different mechanisms, therapies that activate the immune system might succeed in attacking GBM tumours where standard treatments have failed,” says Mr Hunn.

Immunotherapy has been explored as a potential treatment option for brain cancers for some time. Here in New Zealand, Mr Hunn, along with colleagues at Wellington Hospital and the Malaghan Institute, recently completed a Phase I GBM vaccine trial at Wellington Hospital, the outcomes of which will be available next year.

The vaccines used in these trials are typically created from the patient’s tumour tissue – the target, and dendritic cells - the immune cells that direct the anti-tumour immune response.

“The problem however is that some GBM patients are so unwell it can be difficult to isolate enough dendritic cells from their blood to prepare a vaccine,” says Mr Hunn.

In parallel to his clinical work, Mr Hunn therefore undertook some laboratory-based research in collaboration with Associate Professor Ian Hermans and colleagues from the Malaghan Institute, to see if they could simplify their approach by removing the need for dendritic cells to be present in the vaccine.

Their research, published recently in the peer-reviewed international journal Clinical Cancer Research, shows that a vaccine consisting of only tumour cells and an immune-boosting adjuvant is an effective treatment for brain tumours (gliomas) in a mouse model.

“Our research has shown that we can evoke a tumour-specific, long-lasting immune response that is strong enough to kill glioma tumours by targeting the activation of dendritic cells already present inside the mouse,” says Mr Hunn. “In some instances we saw the complete disappearance of tumour lesions as detected by magnetic resonance imaging.”

One of the reasons Mr Hunn thinks this new immunotherapy approach has such great promise is because of the adjuvant included in the vaccine to boost the anti-tumour immune response – a compound derived from marine sponges called alpha-galactosylceramide (alpha-GalCer).

While this new vaccine therapy has been developed in mice, early indications are that GBM cancer patients have the immune system ‘machinery’ required for the therapy to work equally well in humans.

”We believe our research has identified a simple vaccine that could be an effective treatment for a group of patients who currently face an extremely poor prognosis,” says Mr Hunn.

This research was supported by the Cancer Society of New Zealand, the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand, the Wellington Medical Research Foundation and Just Paterson Real Estate. Mr Hunn was supported by a New Zealand Health Research Council Clinical Fellowship, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the Surgical Research Trust.

Research Publication Details
Hunn MK, Farrand KJ, Broadley KW, Weinkove R, Ferguson P, Miller RJ, Field CS, Petersen T, McConnell MJ, Hermans IF Vaccination with irradiated tumor cells pulsed with an adjuvant that stimulates NKT cells is an effective treatment for glioma. Clin Cancer Res, 2012 Nov 12 [Epub ahead of print]

About the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research
The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research is New Zealand’s leading vaccine and immunology research institute and is based at Victoria University of Wellington’s Kelburn campus. The Institute operates independently and is a charitable trust. Researchers at the Malaghan Institute are focused on developing innovative ways to harness the strength and potency of the immune system, the body’s own natural defence against disease, to treat cancer, asthma and allergy, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and infectious disease.

Mr Martin Hunn


© Scoop Media

Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines


Trade: NZ Trade Deficit Widens To A Record In September

Oct. 27 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand's monthly trade deficit widened to a record in September as meat exports dropped to their lowest level in more than three years. More>>


Animal Welfare: Cruel Practices Condemned By DairyNZ Chief

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says cruel and illegal practices are not in any way condoned or accepted by the industry as part of dairy farming.

Tim says the video released today by Farmwatch shows some footage of transport companies and their workers, as well as some unacceptable behaviour by farmers of dragging calves. More>>


Postnatal Depression: 'The Thief That Steals Motherhood' - Alison McCulloch

Post-natal depression is a sly and cruel illness, described by one expert as ‘the thief that steals motherhood’, it creeps up on its victims, hiding behind the stress and exhaustion of being a new parent, catching many women unaware and unprepared. More>>


DIY: Kiwi Ingenuity And Masking Tape Saves Chick

Kiwi ingenuity and masking tape has saved a Kiwi chick after its egg was badly damaged endangering the chick's life. The egg was delivered to Kiwi Encounter at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua 14 days ago by a DOC worker with a large hole in its shell and against all odds has just successfully hatched. More>>


International Trade: Key To Lead Mission To India; ASEAN FTA Review Announced

Prime Minister John Key will lead a trade delegation to India next week, saying the pursuit of a free trade agreement with the protectionist giant is "the primary reason we're going" but playing down the likelihood of early progress. More>>



MYOB: Digital Signatures Go Live

From today, Inland Revenue will begin accepting “digital signatures”, saving businesses and their accountants a huge amount of administration time and further reducing the need for pen and paper in the workplace. More>>

Oil Searches: Norway's Statoil Quits Reinga Basin

Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned oil company, has given up oil and gas exploration in Northland's Reinga Basin, saying the probably of a find was 'too low'. More>>


Modern Living: Auckland Development Blowouts Reminiscent Of Run Up To GFC

The collapse of property developments in Auckland is "almost groundhog day" to the run-up of the global financial crisis in 2007/2008 as banks refuse to fund projects due to blowouts in construction and labour costs, says John Kensington, the author of KPMG's Financial Institutions Performance Survey. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news