Necessity is the mother of invention.
Maciej S. Lesniak, MD
University of Chicago
As an accomplished neurosurgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (Chicago, IL), Maciej S. Lesniak, MD, was frustrated. He and his colleagues were highly skilled and extremely knowledgeable, yet despite their best efforts and state-of-the-art standards of care, their patients with brain tumors almost always died.
Dr. Lesniak’s frustration led him to seek solutions outside of the norm. At the time, the idea of gene therapy was receiving a lot of healthy skepticism. Dr. Lesniak was not in that camp. He knew a radically different approach to established protocols was what it would take to create new hope and extend the lives of patients battling brain cancer.
With a grant from Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, an inspired Dr. Lesniak was able to put his ideas into motion, and in 2007, began to explore the development of a re-engineered cold virus that could selectively infect and ultimately destroy cancer cells in the brain without harming other healthy cells.
The results of Dr. Lesniak’s Alliance-funded research led to the publication of “A Preclinical Evaluation of Neural Stem Cell-Based Cell Carrier for Targeted Antiglioma Oncolytic Virotherapy” in the July 3, 2013, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Since then, Dr. Lesniak and his team continued to refine their approach and build upon the foundation established through the original funding. Their progress was formally recognized in 2015, when Dr. Lesniak was honored with Outstanding Investigator Awards by the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute.
In 2019, Dr. Lesniak and colleagues launched a first-of-its-kind clinical trial in collaboration with Karen Aboody, MD, of the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center (Duarte, CA), who was honored along with Dr. Lesniak in 2008 with an Outstanding New Investigator Award by the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy. Their groundbreaking clinical trial combines established standards of care with neural stem cells developed by Dr Aboody to deliver a virus developed by Dr. Lesniak to kill brain cancer. It represents the first time in history that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved an approach like this for newly diagnosed patients.
“As a neurosurgeon, it was frustrating to see how patients with brain tumors almost always died despite our best efforts and state-of-the-art standards of care. I knew a radically different approach to established protocols was what it would take to create new hope and extend the lives of patients battling brain cancer.”