Reengineering Immune System Cells to Fight Glioblastoma


Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a diagnosis to fear. The search for better treatments is ongoing, but with little to show since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the chemotherapy drug temozolomide with concurrent radiation 12 years ago, based on data showing modest improvement in patients’ survival.

By now, a new cancer treatment approach known as CAR T-cell therapy is famous for its remarkable success in certain blood cancers. But there is not yet much to report for CAR T-cell therapy in solid tumors such as GBM. Still, the treatment may hold promise, and this post will discuss the possible applicability of CAR T-cell therapy in GBM.

What is CAR T-cell therapy?

CAR T-cell (chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T-cell) therapy is based on early work of Israeli scientist Zelig Eshhar conducted in the laboratory of the renowned T-cell treatment pioneer Steven Rosenberg at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They first prepared CAR T cells to target melanoma, and the treatment has since been shown to work amazingly well in certain types of blood cancer, including B-cell leukemia, and lymphoma. Continue reading…


Super Advocate: Stephen Western Helps Brain Cancer Patients Keep Up with the Latest Research


Stephen Western is a dedicated advocate for people dealing with brain cancer. He started this work in February 2013, when his friend was diagnosed with a type of brain tumor known as an astrocytoma. In order to help her, he began to learn all he could about the science of astrocytoma treatment.

Stephen soon realized that many more patients might benefit from his growing knowledge, so he created the website Astrocytoma Options to share this information and update it as new research emerges. He also helps run another site that focuses on the multi-drug “cocktails” often used in brain tumor treatment.

Although Stephen has no formal scientific training, he is able to help patients better understand their treatment options and stay up-to-date on the latest treatment research. To learn more about his work, I interviewed him via email: Continue reading…


Clinical Trials Test Treatments for High-Grade Brain Tumors


With a few exceptions, glioblastoma (GBM) remains largely incurable, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved few treatments for the disease. Surgery (when feasible), radiation, and temozolomide are used in most patients. But even if a newly diagnosed tumor can be surgically excised, recurrences are too common.

In this blog post, I simply list some of the new treatments available in clinical trials for GBM and other high-grade brain tumors. Only drugs that have at least some preliminary results of activity are included, and the list is not meant to be fully comprehensive. The interested reader can judge for herself what might be of interest, keeping in mind that no single treatment is suitable or will work for all GBM patients. Continue reading…


Testing for Tumor Mutations: Liquid Biopsy Versus Traditional Biopsy


Liquid biopsies, virtually unknown even a year or two ago, are becoming common tools in precision diagnostics for cancer. Here, I will try to explain some of the more important differences between liquid and “traditional” tumor biopsies.

Biopsies of solid tumors (e.g., lung, breast, or brain tumors) involve surgically removing a small part of a tumor and sending it to pathology lab. In the last few years, doctors have also started to send some tumor samples to special service labs that analyze tumor DNA for the presence of cancer-related mutations.

By definition, regular biopsies can be intrusive and are sometimes associated with side effects, such as bleeding or infection. However, they provide some really essential information; i.e., the histology and grade of the tumor and other tumor characteristics necessary to determine the best choice of treatment. For lung cancer, for example, a biopsy determines the type of tumor—adenocarcinoma, squamous cancer, small-cell lung cancer, or another, less common type. For breast cancer, a routine test will determine if the tumor expresses estrogen, progesterone receptors, and a protein called HER2. These tests are critically important in guiding treatment choices. If mutational analysis of cancer-related genes is also performed (which doesn’t always happen, unfortunately), it may guide treatment with targeted drugs. Continue reading…


Clinical Trial Versus Standard Protocol: Why and How to Enroll in a Trial


My job at Cancer Commons is to help cancer patients better understand and make decisions about their treatment. Through our Ask Cancer Commons service, I also strive to inform patients about new drugs in trials that they can discuss with their oncologists. Sometimes, I explain the rationale behind a patient’s current or upcoming treatment, and sometimes I try to convince patients to actually get treated, rather than hope that a vegetarian diet and herbal supplements will cure their metastatic disease. Continue reading…


Super Patient: Steven Keating Fights Brain Cancer with Data


In 2007, Steven Keating got his brain scanned for fun. “I volunteered for a study,” says Steven, who was then a student at Queen’s University in Canada. “I wanted to help science, and I was curious about seeing my brain.”

He saw more than anticipated—the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a dime-sized abnormality in his left frontal lobe. But the researchers couldn’t tell what it was, and he had no adverse symptoms. “They said ‘don’t worry, keep an eye on it,'” Steven, who is now a Mechanical Engineering graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, recalls. A follow-up scan in 2010 wasn’t worrisome either. Continue reading…