Neural Stem Cell Virotherapy for Combating Malignant Gliomas

June 30, 2017

Neural stem cell therapy combined with a common cold virus may be a highly effective way of improving outcomes in patients with newly diagnosed malignant gliomas.

Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago are taking a new oncolytic approach to combating newly diagnosed malignant gliomas. They are now beginning a phase I clinical trial that employs neural stem cell therapy combined with a common cold virus to seek out and attack malignant gliomas. This trial is novel because it involves newly diagnosed patients and it will be paired with standard radiation and chemotherapy.

Maciej Lesniak, MD, professor and chair of neurological surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, said based on the encouraging results of preclinical studies, adding neural stem cells appears to improve efficacy without adding toxicity. Dr. Lesniak and his colleagues contend that delivering a novel oncolytic adenovirus via a neural stem cell line in combination with radiation and chemotherapy may be a highly effective way of improving outcomes in patients with newly diagnosed malignant gliomas. He added that previous studies have mainly focused on patients who experienced disease recurrence. 

“This opens up a whole venue for patients with brain cancer. Most trials are in the setting of recurrence. This trial is very novel because we are using it upfront and that is very different,” Dr. Lesniak said in an interview with OncoTherapy Network.

He said combining stem cells with a virus causes the agent to react like a cancer-seeking missile, targeting cancerous cells in the brain. One reason malignant glioma recurs so frequently is because a small subpopulation of cancer cells, often deep in the brain tissue, is highly resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. Dr. Lesniak and his team believe they can target this population of therapy-resistant cells with this novel approach and hopefully further delay or prevent tumor recurrence. The researchers are currently testing the safety and dosage of the treatment and they plan to enroll up to 36 patients. The stem cells used in this trial will come from a collaboration with City of Hope.

Dr. Lesniak noted there has been little progress in the last decade for patients with malignant gliomas and newly diagnosed patients still have few treatment options. “The field of oncolytics has been around for 10 years, but the findings have been disappointing,” said Dr. Lesniak.

In this trial, patients will be divided into two groups (patients with unresectable disease and patients with resectable disease). Patients with unresectable tumors will undergo a biopsy and then receive an injection of neural stem cells loaded with the virus followed by standard chemoradiotherapy.  Patients with resectable tumors will undergo a resection followed by an injection of neural stem cells loaded with the virus and then they will receive standard chemoradiotherapy.