Brain cancer 2016: Using CAR T cell therapy to fight tumors

December 28, 2015 | by Denise Heady

Patients have long needed a better treatment option for brain tumors. As we enter 2016, just such an option is taking shape: CAR T cell therapy.
Behnam Badie, M.D., chief of the Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope, is working with other researchers to develop the use of patients’ own modified T cells to fight advanced brain tumors. In this approach, patients receive injections – directly at the tumor site – of immune cells genetically modified to recognize certain markers on cancer cells.
First in-human clinical trials of this approach are now underway at City of Hope. 
Here, Badie answers four questions about what he expects in brain tumor treatment and research in the coming year.
1. What treatment advances do you expect in 2016? 

“The use of CAR T cells to fight brain tumors will be the biggest advancement to come in 2016,” said Badie. 
Although several centers offer CAR T cell therapy in human clinical studies, City of Hope is the only institution administrating the CAR T cells directly at the brain tumor site. The impact appears to be significant.
Badie, who is a co-principal investigator on the clinical trial with researcher Christine Brown, Ph.D., said the initial response has been very promising. He expects even more success when researchers test a new design of modified CAR T cells in early 2016.
2. How significant is that for the overall field? 

“The research being done with CAR T cells is groundbreaking,” Badie said. “It will change the way we approach brain tumors.”
The CAR T cells being developed at City of Hope are the product of a decade of research and vary significantly from those developed at other institutions. “These cells target different proteins, and we are the only ones actually doing it this way — and it is working,” Badie said. “Our results so far for this clinical trial have been very promising.”
Producing such cells – and conducting research with them – is not possible at many institutions. 
“Even some of the major institutions that have a good reputation in brain tumor treatment and research don’t have the resources City of Hope has to produce these CAR T cells,” Badie said. “CAR T cells require a lot of manufacturing, generation, quality assurance, testing, and a lot of these resources that are not widely available. The whole institution at City of Hope is coming together for this. Not only are surgeons, health providers and researchers involved, but so many people across the institution are involved.”
He added: “It’s a major group effort and it’s really hard to duplicate that.”
3. How will this improve the patient experience or patient outcomes?  

“So far, for the patients we have treated, the quality of life has improved greatly,” Badie said. “For the patients we have treated in this clinical trial, there has been almost no toxicity. They haven’t experienced any nausea or vomiting, and they’ve had very minor headaches and very low-grade fevers. Plus, it’s an outpatient treatment, so they don’t have to come to the actual hospital for treatment.”
4. Overall, where is the field of cancer treatment and research moving in your specialty?
“Besides the CAR T cell research, we also look forward to testing the new stem cell design to help deliver chemotherapy to patients with brain tumors. Initial trials have also been very promising and a new design of the stem cells will be used in a new clinical trial early next year,” Badie said.
“Immunotherapy will probably be another big thing. Next year we will probably get the results on a couple of vaccine trials, so that can be a major breakthrough. The vaccines were developed at Duke, and City of Hope was one of the institutions that took part in the clinical trials for the vaccine.”
Learn more about City of Hope's Brain Tumor Program and Research. If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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