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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

Combination Treatment for Glioma Shows Promise

illustration featuring blue and red globes in gold and brown tangles, with pink, green and yellow squiggles attached to globes.

Artist’s rendering of a glioma cell under attack from the immune system

Photo: Ella Marushchenko

Gliomas are common brain tumors that comprise about one-third of all cancers of the nervous system. In an NIH-funded study, researchers tested a novel combination treatment on mice with tumors with characteristics similar to human astrocytomas—a type of slow-growing glioma—and found tumor regression in 60 percent of the mice treated. These encouraging results, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could be the first step toward developing a treatment for this type of brain cancer.

A team of researchers at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center specifically tested inhibitors of the compound D-2-Hydroxyglutarate (D-2-HG), which is produced by cancer cells, on a mouse version of astrocytoma carrying mutations in two genes, along with an inactivated form of a tumor-suppressor protein gene.

When the implanted mice were treated with a drug to block the production of D-2-HG along with standard of care radiation and temozolomide (chemotherapy) treatments, their survival significantly improved. Looking more closely at tumor cells grown in dishes, the researchers saw that blocking D-2-HG caused the cells to become more susceptible to radiation treatment. However, the treatment also increased the amount of an “immune checkpoint” protein, which tumors use to turn off T-cells and evade the immune system.

Inhibiting this immune checkpoint protein with an additional drug resulted in an even greater improvement in survival, because the mouse’s own immune system was able to attack the tumor. Importantly, this combination therapy also led to immunological memory against the glioma, meaning the mouse now had T-cells tailored to the specific tumor. Because gliomas almost always grow back after treatment, these T-cells make the animal better prepared to fend off regrowth.

These preclinical results produced by this combination therapy could represent a key advance in developing an improved treatment regimen, which combines D-2-HG and immune checkpoint inhibition, radiation and temozolomide for patients with astrocytomas.

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