Trial To Use mRNA Cancer Vaccine For Brain Tumour Treatment

Gamma Knife Surgery - MRI of human brain

A clinical trial has just been completed that may lead to a breakthrough treatment for an aggressive form of brain tumour known as a glioblastoma. Science Daily reports that the first-ever human trial of four adults has taken place for an mRNA cancer vaccine, following promising results on a trial involving ten canines. 

The mRNA treatment works by triggering the body’s own immune system to attack the cancer cells. It was developed by researchers from the University of Florida, and it is reported to show results within 48 hours of being injected. The scientists were surprised by the rapid response of the immune cells, describing the trial as a ‘breakthrough.’

Glioblastomas are grade 4 brain tumours, which means that they are cancerous and can spread quickly to other parts of the brain, and are the most common high-grade brain tumour in adults. Prognosis varies depending on the size and location of the tumour, but the average survival rate after diagnosis is just 12 to 18 months. 

Glioblastomas can be treated with chemotherapy or specialised types of radiotherapy such as Gamma Knife Surgery, depending on the location in the brain and the overall health of the patient. However, there is a strong possibility that the tumour may return even after it has been surgically removed. 

The symptoms of a glioblastoma vary according to where it is in the brain. Commonly occurring symptoms include headaches, memory problems, fatigue, problems with eyesight, speech and communication difficulties, mood swings or personality changes, trouble with cognitive function and seizures.

The new mRNA trial showed that glioblastoma patients either lived longer than predicted, or remained free of cancer for longer after other forms of treatment. The researchers are hopeful that the mRNA vaccine could eventually lead to a new model for brain cancer treatment. Further trials of the vaccine will now go ahead on a larger group of 24 patients.  

Senior author Elias Sayour, a UF Health paediatric oncologist who pioneered the vaccine, told The Independent: “In less than 48 hours, we could see these tumours shifting from what we refer to as ‘cold’ – immune cold, very few immune cells, very silenced immune response – to ‘hot’, very active immune response.”

He added: “That was very surprising given how quick this happened, and what that told us is we were able to activate the early part of the immune system very rapidly against these cancers, and that’s critical to unlock the later effects of the immune response.”

“I am hopeful that this could be a new paradigm for how we treat patients, a new platform technology for how we can modulate the immune system. I am hopeful for how this could now synergize with other immunotherapies and perhaps unlock those immunotherapies.

“We showed in this paper that you actually can have synergy with other types of immunotherapies, so maybe now we can have a combination approach of immunotherapy.”

The full study is published in the journal Cell, and the authors explain how they made use of mRNA technology that was used to develop Covid-19 treatments. However, the cancer-fighting vaccine makes use of the patient’s own tumour cells to create a personalised vaccine, greatly increasing the chance of success. 

The brain tumour vaccine also makes use of a highly sophisticated delivery mechanism involving clusters of particles rather than single particles. This is designed to alert the immune system, and clusters will have more impact than single particles. 

Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program and a co-author of the paper, explained: 

“The demonstration that making an mRNA cancer vaccine in this fashion generates similar and strong responses in mice, dogs that have developed cancer spontaneously and human patients with brain cancer is a really important finding, because often we don’t know how well the preclinical studies in animals are going to translate into similar responses in patients.”

“And while mRNA vaccines and therapeutics are certainly a hot topic since the COVID pandemic, this is a novel and unique way of delivering the mRNA to generate these really significant and rapid immune responses that we’re seeing across animals and humans.”

After the upcoming trial of 24 patients, plans are already in place to widen the trials to include children. 

If you would like some more information on Gamma Knife surgery and Brain cancer treatment, please contact Mr Neil Kitchen of Amethyst Radiotherapy.