Advancing research for brain cancer treatment

brain cancer

Malignant brain tumor

In recognition of brain cancer awareness month, the focus of my blog is on the latest developments in treating this particular cancer. Glioblastoma or glioblastoma multiforme is the most common brain cancer in adults. According to the American Brain Tumor Association, glioblastomas represents about 17% of all primary brain tumors. They can be difficult to treat because the tumors contain so many different types of cells. They tend to be both aggressive and fast growing. The National Cancer Institute says the mortality rate for brain cancer has remained largely unchanged over the past 30 to 40 years. Therefore looking at new ways to treat brain cancer is desperately needed.

One of the hottest areas of clinical research into brain cancer involves the use of immunotherapy, or stimulating the immune system to attack cancer. The National Cancer Institute defines cancer immunotherapy as a type of biological therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection, and other diseases. Some types of immunotherapy only target certain cells of the immune system. Others affect the immune system in a general way. Types of immunotherapy include cytokines, vaccines, bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), and some monoclonal antibodies.

Here at the University of Michigan, we have a robust cancer research program. A major mission of our Neurological Oncology Program (where patients with brain and spinal tumors are seen) is to contribute to advances in treatment of brain tumors through clinical trials.  We are currently examining the use of an injected cancer vaccine called rindopepimut (also known as CDX-110) in combination with chemotherapy to treat those who are newly diagnosed with glioblastoma. This experimental vaccine may promote anti-cancer effects in patients who have tumors that express the EGFRvIII protein. You can find more information on this trial here.

We are also examining the use of dendritic cell immunotherapy in glioblastoma. The dendritic cell is the starter engine of the immune system. White blood cells and cells from the tumor are removed and then made into dendritic cells. Our hope is that they can then be educated to “teach” the immune system how to recognize brain cancer cells. Participants will receive a series of injections of the dendritic cells called DCVax-L, which may activate and then boost the immune response to the tumor cells. More information on this trial is available here.

Other medical centers across the county are looking to use the power of the immune system in ways previously unimaginable. Duke Medical Center currently has a clinical trial looking at using a genetically engineered poliovirus to treat glioma. Providence Cancer Center in Portland, Oregon has a clinical trial examining the use of a genetically-modified bacterium to treat glioma.

Take the next step:

  • Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer Answer Line. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an email.
  • Learn more about clinical trials for brain cancer at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.
  • Visit the American Brain Tumor Association website.
  • Learn more from the American Cancer Society about brain cancer research and cancer vaccines.

SusanDaron no captionThe Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer CenterThe University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.