Novel Approach Harnesses Dendritic Cells to Treat Glioma

A next-generation immunotherapy may offer hope for treating high-grade glioma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. Currently, high-grade glioma is notoriously hard to treat. Fewer than 10% of patients survive beyond 5 years.1

While dendritic cell-based immunotherapy is known to be promising, this study combined dendritic cell immunotherapy with immunogenic cell death. This type of cell death was induced in brain cancer cells from mice. Then, the dying cancer cells were incubated together with dendritic cells. The goal of this combination was to overcome the immunosuppression induced by high-grade glioma. The dying cells released danger signals that fully activated the dendritic cells.

"We re-injected the activated dendritic cells into the mice as a therapeutic vaccine," said Professor Patrizia Agostinis, PhD, of Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium, and senior author of the study. "That vaccine alerted the immune system to the presence of dangerous cancer cells in the body. As a result, the immune system could recognize them and start attacking the brain tumor."

When this novel approach was combined with chemotherapy, the survival rates of mice afflicted with brain tumors drastically increased, with almost half of the mice being completely cured. On the other hand, none of the mice treated with chemotherapy alone survived over the long term.

"The major goal of any anticancer treatment is to kill all cancer cells and prevent any remaining malignant cells from growing or spreading again," Agostinis continued. "This goal, however, is rarely achieved with current chemotherapies, and many patients relapse. That's why the costimulation of the immune system is so important for cancer treatments. Scientists have to look for ways to kill cancer cells in a manner that stimulates the immune system. With an eye on clinical studies, our findings offer a feasible way to improve the production of vaccines against brain tumors."


1. Garg AD, Vandenberk L, Koks C, et al. Dendritic cell vaccines based on immunogenic cell death elicit danger signals and T cell-driven rejection of high-grade glioma. Sci Transl Med. 2016;8(328):328ra27.

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