Childhood Cancer

Brain Tumors

Brain tumors can be low-grade, which tend to grow more slowly, or high-grade with faster growth rates and more commonly spread into normal brain tissue. There are several rare types and sub-types of pediatric brain tumors.  

Latest Brain Tumors grants

Fiona Schulte, PhD, Principal Investigator
University of Calgary
Psychosocial Grants, Awarded 2016
Mary Baron Nelson, RN/PhD, Principal Investigator
Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Nurse Researcher Grants, Awarded 2016
Kevin Cassady, MD & Christopher Walker, PhD, Principal Investigator
Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital
Innovation Grants, Awarded 2016

Latest Brain Tumors blog posts

November 11, 2016

The body’s immune system is robust and powerful—it can reject an entire transplant organ within minutes or hours if the mismatch is too severe. The moment it senses infection, the immune system wakes up and deploys cells to heal the body. 

So, why doesn’t the body attack cancer cells the same way it heals an infection?

The answer lies in the powerful, sinister ability of cancer cells to hide from the immune system, using cloaking technology that is a result of mutations and adaptions within these abnormal cells. As a result, tumor cells can grow without any interference. 

Immunotherapy, which aims to recruit the body’s own immune system to reject cancer as if it was a mismatched organ, is bringing hope in the fight against childhood cancer

We spoke with Ted Johnson, M.D., Ph.D, a clinical oncologist, researcher and ALSF Bio-Therapeutics Impact Grantee about the prospect of immunotherapy and how this treatment could lead to cure for childhood cancer 

Why doesn’t the immune system ramp up to kill cancer cells?
Tumors deploy a variety of mechanisms to hide and suppress immune system pathways. This “cloaking technology” tells the immune system that the tumor is normal tissue and should not be damaged.  When a tumor is damaged by treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, part of it dies. Sometimes the immune system does not recognize the dying part of the tumor as being foreign, and instead the immune system treats it like a wounded organ by actively repairing the tumor tissue, just like it would help heal a more normal wound in healthy tissue. 

So, if cancer has found a way to make the body believe it belongs there, how can the immune system be taught to recognize cancer as an invader?
Immunotherapy drugs and treatment protocols are working to wake up the immune system. When fully activated the immune system can successfully do its job and attack the cancer. The immune system can also leave behind memory cells that can reactivate later if it encounters the same problem again. We believe that robust immune responses against cancer will not only cure the first instance of disease but also target and prevent a relapse. 

What are the different types of immunotherapy?
There are several types of immunotherapy treatments being tested including:

  • Engineered immune cells, which are specifically designed to target cancer cells
  • Cancer vaccines, which stimulate immunity to targeted cancer cells
  • Checkpoint inhibitors, which stop cancer from suppressing immune responses
  • Antibody therapies, which can target cancer cells for destruction by the immune system
  • Signaling protein molecules (cytokines), which can stimulate immune cells in various ways 

Are there side effects of immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy drugs often have very few side effects, unlike chemotherapy and radiation. Children on treatment have a good chance of maintaining a high quality of life and being kids—going to school, participating in activities and doing everything children do. There is also hope that immunotherapy can be a safe treatment for infants who cannot tolerate the devastating side effects of other treatments.

There are some risks associated with treatment such as inflammation from tumor damage during treatment, which doctors monitor closely. There is also a long term increased risk of auto-immune disorders. 

What types of childhood cancer can be treated with immunotherapy?
Most researchers believe immunotherapy will ultimately be used to treat all types of childhood cancer. However, immunotherapy childhood cancer research is 5-10 years behind adult immunotherapy research. We are all working to fix that. 

ALSF funds several cutting edge immunotherapy projects, including a Phase 1 clinical trial led by Dr. Johnson at Augusta University, Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia. Next week, check out the ALSF blog for the story about that Phase 1 Clinical Trial and how it is giving renewed hope to children battling relapsed brain tumors.

You can see the full list of immunotherapy projects funded by ALSF grants here.

September 29, 2016

There have been several times during her battle with childhood cancer, that Jordan Vincent has not been able to walk. It has never stopped her from going the distance for a cure. Jordan, who is now 18, has been slaying diffuse neural glial tumors since she was 4-years-old. Each year during Alex’s Million Mile, Jordan has found a way to log miles, even if it is just one mile in her wheelchair—or several laps walked with her family. This year, Jordan rode for the entire 45 minutes during her annual SoulCycle fundraiser and raised over $20,000 for childhood cancer research—just weeks after being in a wheelchair. 

Jordan is pictured, above, with her SoulCycle instructor Laura Crago.

“Jordan rarely looks back. She doesn’t look back to make future decisions. She has never shied away from the battles she has had to fight,” says Larry Vincent, Jordan’s dad. 
Read more about Jordan here.

May 27, 2016

Read more about how one of our early Innovation Grants helped lead to a major breakthrough in the treatment of glioblastoma, an aggressive and often deadly brain tumor. 

In 2006, ALSF funded a project called “Targeting Pediatric Brainstem Glioma with Oncolytic Polioviruses,” led by Dr. Matthias Gromeier, a researcher at Duke University. His work centered upon using a modified version of the polio vaccine to attack malignant brain tumors. 

Earlier this month, Dr. Gromeier’s continued work has resulted in the FDA designating his treatment protocol as a “Breakthrough Therapy,” for recurrent glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumor. Now, hundreds of patients have hope; when before there was none.

Getting to this point took years and several thousand hours of research.

Shortly after the ASLF funding was complete, journal articles, like this one, started being published about the promise of the research and the breakthroughs coming from Dr. Gromeier’s team. As his project progressed, more stories of the success of a clinical trial using a modified version of the polio virus to treat recurrent glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor, began surfacing. 

One patient, a young woman battling relapsed glioblastoma, ran out of treatment options. She was the first person to try Dr. Gromeier’s polio virus treatment. In the trial, the patient’s brain tumor was infected with the polio virus. This triggered an immune response and the patient’s body began attacking the brain tumor. 

The tumor shriveled up and disappeared. The treatment worked and this 20-year-old patient was able to go away college to study nursing. Someday she plans on becoming a pediatric oncology nurse. 

This early Innovation Grant is truly a breakthrough. As a designated ‘Breakthrough Therapy,' Dr. Gromeier’s treatment will be fast tracked straight to the patients who need it.

Reaching this milestone for Dr. Gromeier is what the ALSF Innovation Grants are all about. Our Scientific Advisory Board uses a thorough review system to make sure the projects most likely to succeed receive funding. Even with this elaborate review system and with leading scientists guiding the process, it is still difficult to tell which projects will be successful. There are so many unknowns in science and science often takes a long time show results on whether or not it will work to help kids.

The Scientific Advisory Board is just one piece of the breakthrough process—it is also thanks to the many, many supporters that join together to fund research. 

Thank you to Dr. Gromeier for being so creative and developing this idea into a treatment and thanks to all the ALSF donors who made it possible for us to be a funder of this project.

You can learn more about Dr. Gromeier’s amazing breakthrough as featured on 60 Minutes earlier this month. Also, read more about the amazing researchers striving for more breakthroughs.