Why ACGT’s Work Matters More Than Ever – A Look At Glioblastoma After John McCain’s Passing

  • | Aug 30 2018 |

By Margaret C. Cianci

As many of you know, elder statesman Senator John McCain passed away this week at age 81 after his last battle – this one against glioblastoma, an insidious type of brain cancer. Unfortunately, this is the same disease that took the lives of Senator Ted Kennedy and young Beau Biden. The median survival for all those diagnosed is 14.6 months according to the American Brain Tumor Association.

Because of the way this type of brain cancer spreads, there has not been much success in treating it. Traditionally it is treated by surgery, where the main tumor is removed and then the patient receives chemotherapy. But due to the blood-brain barrier, little pieces of the tumor, roots, spread and hide in other parts of the brain.

New strategies are being investigated for treatment. ACGT is funding some of the most exciting cell and gene therapy research being done to date, including the work of Dr. Nori Kasahara, University of Miami. He is using modified viruses (vectors) to infect cancer cells and deliver genes that serve as blueprints to make therapeutic proteins inside the cancer cells themselves. These genes are called “suicide genes,” which can replicate and spread forth from the initially infected cancer cells within tumors, but not in normal tissues. They continue to infect more cancer cells even as the cells continue to proliferate. Dr. Kasahara is conducting preclinical studies for this new immunotherapy suicide gene therapy, and the next step is to translate it into the clinic.

In addition to Dr. Kasahara’s work, ACGT is currently supporting three other Research Fellows, who are all using different gene therapy approaches to targeting this malignant disease. Dr. Marco Gallo at the University of Calgary is designing a protein that can change DNA architecture and be directed to the brain tumor stem cells. Dr. Matthias Stephan at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center is developing injectable genetic agents to more effectively program T cell receptors to trigger an immune response. Once the cancer is destroyed, these programmed cells will transform into memory cells that prevent relapse. Dr. David Reardon of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is developing a unique two-step approach to knock out the built-in resistance and bind the tumor with an antibody recognized by T-cells to sustain immunity. If successful, all of the Investigators hope to move their research into clinical trials.

To make all of this research possible, ACGT and other non-profit organizations need financial support. The work and researchers are there, and while all of the research may not be home runs, we need to support as many innovative, thoughtful approaches as possible. Please help us to continue the fight and support research so eventually glioblastoma will no longer be a death sentence.