Heating up cold brain tumors: An emerging approach to medulloblastoma

| Written by Miles Martin
Cancer cells

Immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment, but it doesn’t work on many childhood brain tumors. Researchers from Sanford Burnham Prebys are working to change that.

Robert Wechsler-Reya, Ph.D.
Robert Wechsler-Reya, Ph.D.

Brain tumors account for about a quarter of all cancer cases in children. Medulloblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of childhood brain cancer, often develops resistance to radiation and chemotherapy. Researchers from Sanford Burnham Prebys are working to solve this problem by harnessing the power of the immune system.

They describe the potential of this approach in their recently published paper in Genes & Development

“The brain’s location makes it very difficult to target medulloblastoma tumors with current therapies,” says first author Tanja Eisemann, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in the lab of Robert Wechsler-Reya, Ph.D. “They’re also immunologically cold, which means they’re good at evading the immune system.” 

Tanja Eisemann, Ph.D.
Tanja Eisemann, Ph.D.

The researchers hypothesize that it may be possible to enhance the body’s immune response to medulloblastoma and help the body’s immune cells enter the brain, making treatment with immunotherapy possible.

“Immunotherapy has so much potential as a  cancer treatment, but its scope is limited right now,” says Eisemann. “We want to bring the benefits of this therapy to medulloblastoma patients and their families.”

Eisemann has been studying this approach in mice, and although the research is still at an early stage, she and her colleagues are highly optimistic about its potential.

“The brain has long been considered immune privileged, hidden from immune-system surveillance and immune responses. But we’re starting to see that this isn’t the case,” says Eisemann. “This is a rapidly evolving field, and I’m excited to be working in a lab on the forefront of that research.”

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