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Vol. LXVII, No. 8
April 10, 2015

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Strengthening the Immune Systemís Fight Against Brain Cancer

An artist’s representation of the surface of a human dendritic cell. Engineered dendritic cells can fight tumors.

An artist’s representation of the surface of a human dendritic cell. Engineered dendritic cells can fight tumors.

Image: NCI

When cancer strikes, it may be possible for patients to fight back with their own defenses, using a strategy known as immunotherapy. According to a new study published in Nature, researchers have found a way to enhance the effects of this therapeutic approach in glioblastoma, a deadly type of brain cancer, and possibly improve patient outcomes. The research was funded by NINDS and NCI.

“The promise of dendritic cell-based therapy and other immunotherapies for brain cancer has been upheld for some time, but an important implication of this work is a demonstrated capacity to significantly improve the clinical impact of immunotherapy for patients with this very difficult disease,” said Dr. Duane Mitchell, director of the Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program at the University of Florida and co-lead author of the study.

Dendritic cells are specialized immune cells that normally capture microorganisms and then migrate to the lymph nodes to prepare other immune players, such as T cells, to fight off the invaders.

Dendritic cells have been used for immunotherapy to target a variety of tumor types, including those that affect the brain. These cells are taken from the patient, engineered to express antigens from the tumor to create a vaccine and then injected back into the patient. Once in the patient, the engineered dendritic cells activate T cells, which can fight the tumor and also prevent it from coming back, via an immune memory response.

For Most Children with HIV and Low Immune Cell Count, Cells Rebound After Treatment

Most children with HIV who have low levels of a key immune cell eventually recover levels of this cell after beginning treatment, according to a study by researchers funded by NIH.

Failure of CD4+ T cells, a major target of HIV, to rebound after the virus has been suppressed with medication occurs in about 15 percent of adult patients and is associated with serious, life-threatening illnesses. The researchers conducted the current study to find out to what extent children who were infected with HIV around the time of birth might be at risk for this condition and whether this failure carried with it a major risk for serious infection.

“The good news is that this condition occurs only infrequently in young children with HIV,” said study author Rohan Hazra of NICHD, which provided much of the funding for the study. “The comparatively few children whose CD4+ cells failed to rebound did not appear to be at any greater risk for serious infection than children with higher CD4+ counts.”

He added that the findings do not appear to change treatment recommendations for children with HIV, which include antiretroviral drugs to suppress the virus and periodic follow-up examinations to detect the first signs of any serious infections.

The findings were published online in AIDS and the study was conducted by a team of researchers at several institutions in the United States and Brazil.

NIH-Funded Scientists Identify Brain Site for Stress Role in Binge Alcohol Drinking

New research shows how elements of the brain’s stress and reward pathways can interact to suppress binge alcohol drinking. The finding, online in Nature Neuroscience, suggests potential strategies for treating and preventing alcohol use problems.

“This study is an important contribution to our knowledge of the neurobiology of alcohol-use disorders and could open new avenues for medication development,” said Dr. George Koob, director of NIAAA, the primary sponsor of the research. NIDDK also provided support for the study.

Binge alcohol drinking contributes to myriad acute and chronic public health problems and accounts for an estimated three-quarters of the total economic cost of alcohol misuse. Accumulating evidence indicates that binge drinking by adolescents and college students contributes to alcohol dependence and anxiety disorders.

Previous studies have shown that brain signaling by a protein known as corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) increases anxiety. CRF activity also increases during binge alcohol drinking. In contrast, a brain protein called neuropeptide Y is known to reduce binge drinking and anxiety. However, how and where these two opposing systems interact in the brain is unknown.

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