An innovative approach using a tetanus booster to prime the immune system enhances the effect of a vaccine therapy for lethal brain tumors, dramatically improving patient survival, according to a study led by Duke Cancer Institute researchers.

Brain and CSF/NIH
Brain and CSF/NIH

Appearing online March 11, 2015, in the journal Nature, the researchers not only present survival data for a small, randomized and blinded patient trial, they also detail how the tetanus pre-conditioning technique works, providing a roadmap for enhancing dendritic cell immunotherapies that have shown promise treating the most lethal form of brain cancer.

“Patients with glioblastoma usually survive for little more than one year. However, in patients who received the immunotherapy, half lived nearly five years or longer from their diagnosis, so the findings are promising and significant,” said senior author John Sampson, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Division of Neurosurgery at Duke University Medical Center.

The researchers built the study on earlier findings that glioblastoma tumors harbor a strain of cytomegalovirus (CMV) that is not present in the surrounding brain tissue, creating a natural target for an immune therapy.

One such targeted approach uses dendritic cells, which train the immune system to respond to specific pathogens. The Duke research team developed a process to extract white blood cells, coax the growth of dendritic cells and load them with the viral antigens.

Armed with these marching orders, the dendritic cells are injected back into the cancer patients, where they head to the lymph nodes and signal the immune fighters to search and attack the CMV-laden tumor.

Read the complete Duke Medicine news release HERE