Glioblastoma is a variant of brain cancer and has been described as one of the most deadly types of cancer. Even with treatment, the average survival time for those diagnosed with glioblastoma is between fifteen to sixteen months. A recently released study has, however, shown that immunotherapy drug could actually help in extending the life of patients living with glioblastoma if it administered before the tumor-removal surgery.
The researchers hold the belief that it is due to the fact that the treatment triggers to life the dormant T cells in this tumor and can help in fighting cancer anywhere it’s found in the brain. With the removal of the tumor prior to treatments, the cells would no longer be present.
According to one of the study’s lead author, Dr. Timothy Cloughesy, immunotherapy was administered prior to surgery, and that aided the activation of T cells in the tumor which were previously nonfunctional and that in turn helped to extend the lives of the patients. Cloughesy added that the study also discovered a means through which they can use the checkpoints inhibitors present in glioblastoma which were previously believed to be ineffective.
Increased Life Expectancy
One other finding of the study was that patients that went through the immunotherapy treatment with the drug pembrolizumab and on an average, they survived for 417 days. Those who used the drug after their surgery on an average lived for 228 days. That is over twice the general life expectancy of patients living with glioblastoma who often die within six months after diagnosis.
Another lead author, Robert Prins who is also a medical pharmacology professor at UCLA, said they didn’t find a cure to the disease, but they had taken a step in the right direction. Immunotherapy has been described as a living drug which activates cells that destroy cancer cells which is exactly the function of an immune system.
Attacking The Tumors
Pembrolizumab is widely marketed as Keytruda. This antibody helps to block a protein known as PD-1 from preventing the actions of T-1 cells which are the cancer-fighting cells of the body.
Cancerous tumors including Glioblastoma tend to use the PD-1 cells in protecting themselves against the attack launched by the immune system. It has been proven that immunotherapy is effective in the treatment of cancer in different body parts. However, that isn’t the case when it comes to brain cancers.
According to Dr. Graeme Woodworth of the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, there hasn’t really been anything new in glioblastoma treatment for the past ten years. Woodworth who is also a director at the university’s medical center described the study as a good one as well as a very promising one.
While speaking to a media outlet, Woodworth said the treatment of brain tumors is very difficult, and that is as a result of the natural suppressed nature of the immune response that takes place in the human brain.
Our brain is found in a compartment embedded in the skull, and when it swells, it can be deadly as it is in a closed place. As such the design of the immune system is one that ensures there is a limit to swelling and inflammation.
Further, patients that have gotten treatment with chemotherapy and radiation can come with a weakened immune response. Also, the cancerous tumor leads to the production of immunosuppressants capable of affecting not just the brain but also the entire body.
Step In The Right Direction
A neuro-oncologist, Dr. Santosh Kesari said in a lot of glioblastoma patients in the past couple of years, checkpoints inhibitors haven’t really worked well whether as a sole agent or combination with chemotherapy and radiation.
Kesari who is also a chair of Neurotherapeutics and neurosciences department at John Wayne Cancer Institute said if the study is confirmed in a wider cohort, it may give room for the use of the drugs in a manner that would lead to a stronger immune response present in the tumor.
Ultimately it would improve survival. Prins who also has an affiliation with Parker’s Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy said it is the first sign that immunotherapy could actually be of clinical help to patients who have malignant brain tumors as well as help in the prevention of future recurrences.