JHU researchers find therapeutic target for hard-to-treat brain tumors

Protein is focus of current clinical trial at National Cancer Institute

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found a specific protein in nearly all instances of the most common form of brain tumor, suggesting a new target for therapies for a cancer that does not respond to current chemotherapy.

Brain tumor sample

Image caption: The brown stain shows the presence of the protein NY-ESO-1 in this human meningioma sample. Nuclei are stained in purple.

Image credit: Gilson Baia

Importantly, the investigators say, the protein is already the focus of a clinical trial under way at the National Cancer Institute. That trial is designed to activate the immune systems of patients with other types of tumors that express the protein, training the body to attack the cancer and eradicate it.

"Typically there is a lag time before a laboratory finding like this leads to a clear path forward to help patients," said Gregory J. Riggins, a professor of neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the senior author of the study published online in the journal Cancer Immunology Research. "But in this case, since there is already a clinical trial under way, we have a chance of helping people sooner rather than later."

The Johns Hopkins researchers examined high-grade meningiomas, brain tumors that are deadlier and much more difficult to eradicate than are low-grade meningiomas, which are located in easy-to-reach locations and can be treated successfully with surgery and radiation. They took tissue from 18 different meningioma samples and found repeat expression of a protein called NY-ESO-1. Then they analyzed NY-ESO-1 expression in a larger group of 110 meningioma tissue samples and found the protein in 108 of them. The more expression in the sample, they also determined, the higher the tumor grade.

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