Each year, more than 200,000 people in the United States receive the chilling diagnosis of a primary or metastatic brain tumor. The sheer number of these cases makes central nervous system tumors one of the most common in cancer.
In 2013, Dr. Mitchell joined the University of Florida faculty and leads a comprehensive brain tumor program focused on translational research. He has considerable clinical and translational research experience having served as principal investigator on seven first-in-human protocols through FDA-approved clinical trials. The goal of these trials is to see improvements in patient outcomes using novel approaches that stimulate immune responses against malignant brain tumor cells in combination with current standard treatments. Dr. Mitchell’s research team will expand upon early successes observed in these personalized cancer treatment approaches, and offer unique clinical options at UF for adult and pediatric patients diagnosed with malignant brain tumors.
Immunotherapy for brain tumors
While cancer immunotherapy has emerged as a highly effective approach for the treatment of several types of advanced cancers, including metastatic melanoma, advanced lung cancer and refractory lymphoma, brain cancer has remained a significant challenge due to the blood-brain barrier exclusion of many immune cells from the central nervous system and the profoundly immunosuppressive brain tumor microenvironment.
Dr. Mitchell’s team at UF and his collaborators have developed several approaches to the immunologic treatment of pediatric and adult malignant brain tumors. Given the fact that even the most effective immunotherapies to date, which have been recognized as breakthrough successes, still only achieve complete clinical responses in roughly 30 percent of treated patients, there is tremendous potential significance in tumor responsiveness to immunotherapy.
What is immunotherapy?
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer. It uses substances either made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function. Immunotherapy may work in the following ways:
- Stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells
- Stopping cancer from spreading to other parts of the body
- Helping the immune system work better at destroying cancer cells
There are several types of immunotherapy, including:
- Monoclonal antibodies
- Non-specific immunotherapies
- Oncolytic virus therapy
- T-cell therapy
- Cancer vaccines
For this type of immunotherapy, some T cells are removed from a patient’s blood. Then, the cells are changed in a laboratory so they have specific proteins called receptors. These receptors allow those T cells to recognize the cancer cells. The changed T cells are grown in large numbers in the laboratory and returned to the patient’s body. Once there, they seek out and destroy cancer cells. This type of therapy is called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy.
Researchers are still studying this and other ways of modifying T cells to treat cancer. Currently, these treatments are only available in clinical trials.
A vaccine is another method used to help the body fight disease. A vaccine exposes the immune system to an antigen. This triggers the immune system to recognize and destroy that protein or related materials.
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