Clinical trial will treat glioblastoma in pet dogs

October 20, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Michigan Medicine News

A new immunotherapy approach to a devastating brain cancer is going to the dogs, thanks to a neurosurgery, pediatrics and veterinary collaboration.

Maria Castro, Ph.D., professor of neurosurgery at Michigan Medicine, received support from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health to implement a gene therapy approach, which boosts anti-tumor immunity, to treat pet dogs with high-grade glioma. It’s a partnership with veterinary and pediatrics faculty at the University of Minnesota, where the canine clinical trial will take place.

The National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Moonshot, which appropriated $300 million this year to fund cancer research, is funding the project.

“Unfortunately, pet dogs have a high incidence of high-grade gliomas, and the origin and poor prognosis of the disease are similar to human patients,” Castro said. “But since we’ve already proven this therapy is safe and efficacious in pre-clinical models, we can help pet dogs with malignant brain cancer by adding immunotherapy to surgery and chemotherapy.”

G. Elizabeth Pluhar, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor of veterinary surgery at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator on the NCI grant, will lead the clinical trial on-site in Minnesota.

“We’ve seen a beneficial effect delivering immunotherapy using Dr. Castro’s gene therapy in a previous clinical trial in pet dogs with high-grade glioma,” Pluhar said. “We expect to enhance that effect by adding a novel immune checkpoint blockade developed at the University of Minnesota.” The immune checkpoint blockade allows the immune system to work more efficiently in fighting the tumor by blocking inhibitory signals the cancer gives the immune system.

Castro said the researchers hope to translate their results to provide a standard therapy for pet dogs, and if the results are encouraging, eventually a therapy for human patients.

The award is $2.7 million over five years. Additional researchers include the University of Minnesota’s Michael Olin, Ph.D., and Michigan Medicine’s Pedro Lowenstein, M.D., Ph.D.

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