University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and Medical School

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Researchers with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and Medical School have been working together to find novel therapies for brain tumors. The team, consisting of Liz Pluhar, D.V.M. neurosurgeon, Matt Hunt, M.D. neurosurgeon, Chris Moertel, M.D. pediatric neuro-oncologist, and Mike Olin, Ph.D. researcher, are striving to prolong the disease-free and overall survival times for patients with high-grade glioma primarily using immunotherapy strategies.

Brain tumors are normally “hidden” from the immune system, but the premise of immunotherapy is to exploit the body’s own immune system to recognize the tumor as “foreign” material and to attack and kill any tumor cells. We have focused on using the patient’s own tumor cells to make vaccines that are injected into the skin to activate resident immune cells, called dendritic cells, after surgery to remove as much tumor as possible so as not to overwhelm the immune response. Vaccinating pet dogs with high-grade glioma after surgery increased median survival over that of palliative therapy from 1-2 months to 7-9 months. These dogs have excellent quality of life with minimal adverse effects, which are significant advantages over radiation and chemotherapy.

However, we endeavored to improve our clinical results by adding a novel checkpoint blockade inhibitor developed by the team. Preliminary data from a pilot study, supported largely by Humor to Fight the Tumor, combining our CD200 (OX2) inhibitor with the vaccines after surgical debulking of the tumor is showing promising results that were not observed in the earlier trials. There is evidence of a more robust immune response with regression of residual tumor and immune infiltrates in the brain that have translated into a prolonged median survival time that now exceeds a year. Ultimately, our goal is to provide hope and safe, more effective treatments for dogs and people with any brain cancer.