New strategies for targeting immune evasion in children’s brain tumours

Dr Roberta Mazzieri
(The University of Queensland – Diamantina Institute)

Immunotherapy is being heralded as a new frontier in medical innovation. Unlike toxic chemotherapy treatments which can cause significant damage to healthy cells, immunotherapy works by harnessing a patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.

Glioblastoma is a type of brain cancer with a particularly dismal prognosis for children. We know that the immune system has the potential to fight a tumour. However, glioblastoma cells frequently avoid the attacks of the immune system by inhibiting its activity and by becoming invisible making them a poor target for immunotherapy. Nevertheless, we have recently gained a better understanding of these evasive mechanisms and are now in a better position to develop new and improved immunotherapeutic strategies.

In this research, Dr Roberta Mazzieri will use genetic engineering technology to reprogram immune cells to produce a powerful immune stimulant able to re-awaken the immune system. At the same time, in collaboration with Prof Dolcetti, she is developing a new cancer vaccine formulation to make the tumour cells more visible. It is hoped that together, these two therapies, will make the body’s immune system able to find, attack and eliminate the tumour.

In collaboration with Dr Tim Hassall from Queensland Children’s Hospital, and using samples from Queensland Children’s Tumour Bank, Dr Mazzieri will also investigate whether other types of paediatric brain cancer may benefit from this new treatment approach.

Immunotherapy has been successful in treating leukaemia and some types of solid tumours – but has not been fully developed as an effective treatment for brain tumours.

This research could help change that, and lead to new immunotherapy-based treatments for brain cancer types including glioblastoma. The ultimate outcome of this project will be the development of new strategies to save lives and improve the quality of life of children with brain cancer.