Research successes

Combatting brain tumours with immunotherapy

“Natural killer cells” are a special type of blood cell of the innate immune system. Researchers are using these in a genetically-modified form to combat brain tumours.

Glioblastomas are malignant brain tumours for which there is still no cure today. The tumour cells begin to metastasise at an early stage and spread through the brain via a network of fibres. This makes it impossible to remove the tumours entirely using surgery or radiation.

Boost for the immune system

An innovative treatment method has now been developed by a Frankfurt-based research team led by Prof. Dr. Joachim Steinbach (Director, Dr. Senckenberg Institute of Neurooncology and Scientific Director, University Cancer Center – UCT Frankfurt). As part of a clinical trial, glioblastoma patients who have suffered a relapse are being treated at the UCT with so-called natural killer cells (NK cells). The NK cells are isolated prior to surgery and genetically modified at the Institute for Transfusion Medicine and Immunohaematology of the German Red Cross Blood Donor Service Baden-Württemberg-Hessen. The surgeon then injects these into tissue in the operation site during surgical removal of the tumour. Their modification means the NK cells ‘recognise’ the tumour-associated antigen HER2, which is present on the surface of many tumour cells. “The tumour cells left behind after surgery can then be attacked and the immune system activated against these. Our aim is to prevent the tumour cells from spreading again,” Joachim Steinbach explains. So far, the method has been used on five patients.

Biobank prepares trial samples

The immune cells used are among the first immunotherapeutics of this kind in the world to be tested in a clinical trial. The Interdisciplinary Biomaterial and Database Frankfurt (iBDF) took care of the logistics, storage and preparation of samples during the clinical trial. It also assisted in projects leading up to the clinical trial by providing and processing test and sample materials.

Photo credits: Dr. Senckenberg Foundation


Scientific Publications

Zhang C, Burger MC, Jennewein L, Genßler S, Schönfeld K, Zeiner P, Hattingen E, Harter PN, Mittelbronn M, Tonn T, Steinbach JP, Wels WS. ErbB2/HER2-Specific NK Cells for Targeted Therapy of Glioblastoma. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2015 Dec 6;108(5). doi: 10.1093/jnci/djv375. Print 2016 May.



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