Cytomegalovirus Vaccine as Immunotherapy for Brain Cancer

Investigators: Duane Mitchell and John Sampson
Title: Development of a clinical dendritic cell vaccine targeting human cytomegalovirus antigens expressed within high-grade malignant astrocytomas
Grantee: Duke University

Harnessing the power of the immune system is one of the most promising methods for fighting brain cancer.  To fight brain cancer, the immune system must learn to recognize specific chemical flags on brain tumor cells that identify these cells as invaders to be attacked.  However, such recognition has historically been a really hard problem because of the huge amount of variation between different brain tumors.  Nevertheless, because many brain tumors have very high levels of a harmless virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV) dwelling within them, training the immune system to attack chemical flags from CMV may solve this problem.  To exploit this idea in the treatment of brain cancer, in 2003, ABC2 funded Dr. Duane Mitchell and Dr. John Sampson (Duke University) to develop a vaccine that would teach the human immune system to fight against CMV.  In their work, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Sampson identified CMV flags to be targeted by the immune system, improved methods for activating the immune system against these flags, and tested the safety and efficacy of a new CMV vaccine in a small, Phase 1 clinical trial of patients with brain tumors.

Building over the last decade upon the success of the early work funded by ABC2, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Sampson have made astonishing strides toward developing effective treatments for brain cancer.  In addition to providing the groundwork for testing a CMV-based vaccine in a clinical trial that has produced exciting preliminary results, their work has helped to revolutionize immune therapy in brain cancer and paved the way toward new treatments for human patients.