Programming viruses to attack cancer cells and ignore healthy cells is the foundation of oncolytic virotherapy. This type of cancer cell and gene therapy is a promising alternative to therapies that can have devastating side effects and damage healthy tissue.
E. Antonio Chiocca, MD, PhD, a member of the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy Scientific Advisory Council, is leading research and trials for glioblastoma using this virus-based treatment approach.
Frequent, noninvasive monitoring of tumor response to virotherapy is needed to improve the treatment. This process helps detect whether virotherapies are working for patients, crucial for understanding interactions between cancer cells and the virus.
Dr. Antonio Chiocca and the team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect tumor response sooner than usual. This feat was accomplished by measuring tissue pH and protein concentration, which are early signs of cancer cell death.
“This study describes a new method for detecting tumor cell death non-invasively using MRI,” the authors wrote. “The capacity to do this could be useful for non-invasive monitoring of cancer treatment, potentially improving patient care and tailoring the treatment to an individual patient.”
The paper was published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
How to detect tumor response for virotherapy earlier
Dr. Chiocca and a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital tested a novel oncolytic virotherapy on mice. The next step in the research was constant monitoring of pH and protein levels. They used quantitative molecular MRI images to measure these properties.
The team was able to see visible responses 48 hours after delivery of the virotherapy. They saw the changes before any measurable difference in tumor size, which is often the first sign of a treatment working.
While the initial study was in mice, the team tested this detection method in a human patient with success. Dr. Chiocca and the team feel confident they can detect changes in pH and protein in humans with the same MRI technology.
Dr. Chiocca’s work with virotherapy for glioblastoma
Dr. Chiocca is neurosurgeon-in-chief and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. His clinical research includes developing novel genetic therapies for malignant brain tumors. He is engineering viruses to kill tumor cells without affecting normal brain tissue.
He believes in using the power of viruses to infect and kill diseased cells. The presence of the virus alerts the immune system to the tumor microenvironment, which may allow the immune system to find cancer cells nearby. Dr. Chiocca’s laboratory is combining this science with novel immunotherapies for glioblastoma.
Dr. Chiocca’s research was supported by Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, which led to a phase 1 glioblastoma clinical trial.
ACGT support of oncolytic virus research
Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy funds multiple initiatives involving oncolytic viruses. In addition to Dr. Chiocca, some of the ACGT Fellows invested in this therapeutic area are:
- Douglas Mahoney, PhD
- Joseph Glorioso, PhD, also an ACGT Scientific Council member
- John Bell, PhD, also on our Scientific Advisory Council
- Michael Z. Lin, MD, PhD
ACGT supports many scientists and doctors exploring how to improve cancer treatment. Cell and gene therapies – already approved for blood cancers – are demonstrating potential for solid tumor cancers. Your donation to Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy will support the work of experts like Dr. Chiocca.
- Quantitative imaging of apoptosis following oncolytic virotherapy by magnetic resonance fingerprinting aided by deep learning. Nature Biomedical Engineering. Retrieved from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41551-021-00809-7. Accessed: 01/14/2022.