New hope in the fight against cancer: A genetically modified virus can increase the life expectancy of children with brain tumors

Every year in Europe more than 35,000 new cases of childhood cancer are diagnosed and 6,000 children die from it. The breakthrough by Spanish researchers concerns infiltrating glioma of the brainstem (GITC). In France, almost 50 children are affected each year, as many girls as boys, making GITC a rare tumor.

The discovery of a genetically engineered cold virus that can kill cancer cells restores Hope for treatment of the deadliest childhood brain tumor, invasive brainstem glioma. It is a very aggressive cancer that affects children and adolescents, and half of the patients do not survive more than a year. The stakes are enormous as there is currently no effective treatment.

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The survival rate from this cancer has not increased for more than 15 years. Both the medical community and affected parents are constantly alerting authorities to the need to advance research in order to improve treatment and, most importantly, increase the life expectancy of affected children.

Invasive brainstem glioma (IBG) is a brain tumor located below the brain above the medulla oblongata. It’s a deep and fragile area related to vital functions like balance, breathing, bladder control, heart rate and blood pressure. This region is also traversed by nerves responsible for vision, hearing, speech, swallowing, and movement.

In an article published June 30 in The New England Journal Of Medicine, researchers reveal that the use of virotherapy in conjunction with radiation therapy in children with an infiltrating brainstem glioma has led to it Changes in lymphocyte activity and reduction or stabilization in tumor size in patients.

The procedure is based on antitumor virotherapy and, in this particular case, on the modification of adenoviruses specific to the respiratory tract, the very ones that make tumors associated with infiltrating glioma cancer of the brainstem cancerous.

Virotherapy is a therapeutic strategy that consists in using a virus, in this case an adenovirus, which, after genetic reprogramming, can eliminate cells or tissues of an organism or reprogram certain dysfunctional cells. Not only are the cells killed by the virus, but the resulting cellular debris stimulates the immune system to attack the tumor.

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And that’s exactly what the researchers found.
“Our results are promising because they show that virotherapy can be an additional treatment route for this disease that is completely devoid of effective therapies.”says Jaime Gállego, neurologist at the University Hospital of Navarra, coordinator of the Brain Cancer Unit and co-author of this paper published in New England Journal of Medicine, an authoritative journal whose publications are peer-verified and validated.

In a clinical study with 12 patients aged 3-18 yearsthe modified virus used, an oncovirus, has therefore been shown to be safe for children, without serious side effects and well tolerated by patients.

When used in conjunction with radiation therapy, the virus increased the participants’ average survival time from 12 months to 17.8 months. Two of the children participating in this study are alive three years after the tumor was discovered.

“It may seem like a small step forward, little time gained from the illness, but it is a crucial step forward“says Jaime Gállego, neurologist at the University Hospital of Navarra, coordinator of the Brain Cancer Unit and co-author of this study, the conclusions of which will be published in the scientific journal.

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And to add finally: “Our results are encouraging because they show that virotherapy, a type of immunotherapy, may be another treatment avenue for this disease completely devoid of effective therapies.”.

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