New study might help cure neuroblastoma in kids

WASHINGTON — Groundbreaking research at a local laboratory could one day bring a cure to kids with a specific type of cancer.

A research team with the Children’s National Medical Health System has successfully cured neuroblastoma tumors in mice, setting the stage for future clinical trials in humans.

Researchers manipulated the genes in cancer cells and followed up with drugs designed to make the immune system more aggressive.

“This is very effective and really not only suppressed the growth, but could actually cure mice of large established tumors,” says Dr. Anthony Sandler, who led the study published in the PLOS ONE journal.

The body typically does not attack tumors because they are seen as the patient’s own tissue and not an invader.

But this gene manipulation turned the tumor into a foreign body like a virus or a bacteria, enabling new drugs known as “checkpoint inhibitors” to rev up the immune system for a full-scale attack.

“With the activation of the immune system we are getting  a double hit, so we are really inducing the immune system to hit the tumor,” Sandler says.

Neuroblastoma is the second most common solid tumor found in children and most often occurs in kids under the age of five. It is a disease that forms in certain types of nerve tissue and often begins in the adrenal glands.

While his research focused solely on neuroblastoma, Sandler says he is excited about the potential for immunology to revolutionize the way we treat cancer.

Instead of a preventive vaccine, like we have for chicken pox or flu, the idea is to create  “therapeudic” vaccines for cancer that trigger the immune system to fight off the disease.

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