An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Cara Martinez | February 19, 2019
Xiuli Wang, Ph.D., research professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope, presented encouraging research on using CAR T cell therapy for central nervous system lymphoma at the annual American Society of Hematology conference, held earlier this month in San Diego. (ASH is an annual meeting that brings together more than 25,000 hematology professionals — including many from City of Hope — who focus on research and treatment for blood cancers and other diseases.)
Xiuli Wang 300x300 Xiuli Wang, Ph.D.
Over the last 20 years, the incidence of central nervous system lymphoma (CNSL) — which starts in the brain, spinal cord, eyes or meninges — has increased. It now represents approximately 2-3 percent of all brain tumors.
Unlike other types of lymphomas, this aggressive cancer is seen exclusively in an advanced state, and because these tumors are deeply embedded in hard-to-reach areas, surgery is not an option and many other treatments, like chemotherapy, prove unsuccessful.
Wang, an expert in CAR T cell therapy and immunotherapy, is committed to improving outcomes for patients facing this rare but deadly disease. The research she presented at ASH suggests that delivering one injection of CAR T cells — a powerful treatment that uses a patient’s own immune system to fight cancerous cells without harming neighboring healthy cells — directly into a specific compartment of the brain is more accurate and potent than existing therapies.
Currently, all CAR T cell therapies are given to patients intravenously, Wang said. “Our research suggests that by injecting the immunotherapy drug directly into the brain instead of a vein, the drug will have a better chance of reaching deeply embedded tumors.”
This technique also offers a secondary benefit.
“Once the immunotherapy enters the brain, it can more easily migrate to other parts of the body, ultimately treating subsequent tumors throughout the body,” Wang said.
While these findings are not yet ready to be tested in patients, Wang and her research team plan to open a phase 1 clinical trial in the near future.