Assessment of MIBG therapy in combination with cytotoxic drugs for neuroblastoma

01 June 2012
Professor Rob Mairs, University of Glasgow

Neuroblastoma, one of the most common childhood cancers, is often not diagnosed until it has spread to other parts of the body. At this stage it is very difficult to treat. A form of radiotherapy known as MIBG therapy has generated long-term remissions but cannot cure advanced disease. Professor Mairs is exploring the use of MIBG therapy in combination with chemotherapy drugs to develop a new, more effective approach.

Amount of grant: £79,429*  |  Date of award: June 2012

The team
Professor Rob Mairs & Dr Colin Rae, University of Glasgow; Dr Mark Gaze, University College London Hospitals.


Neuroblastoma – a nerve tumour - is one of the most common childhood cancers, with around 100 children diagnosed every year in the UK. Most of these children are under the age of five years.

The most common site of neuroblastoma is the adrenal gland but in around half of patients, the disease has already spread to other parts of the body by the time it is diagnosed. Such disease is difficult to eradicate, even with the most intensive drug regimes.

A drug known as MIBG is taken up by the type of tissue of which neuroblastoma tumours are comprised. MIBG can be ‘tagged’ or ‘radiolabelled’ so that it delivers radiation directly to the tumour. This is useful for both imaging purposes and neuroblastoma therapy. Importantly, because the therapy is delivered directly to the tumour, it does not affect other issues and thus avoids common side-effects such as gut toxicity and hair loss.

Whilst MIBG therapy has generated long-term remissions, it cannot cure advanced disease and it is thought that the beneficial effects could be boosted by combining this approach with chemotherapy.

Assessment of MIBG therapy in combination with chemotherapy

The work will be carried out at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Laboratories in Glasgow under the supervision of Professor Rob Mairs and Dr Colin Rae. For the last 23 years, Professor Mairs has led a research group dedicated to the development of targeting strategies to improve the biological specificity and effectiveness of radiation treatment. He has a strong track record of translating experimental therapeutic strategies into new treatments.

The team in Glasgow will explore the combination of radioactive MIBG with a variety of different drugs to establish the optimal combination with respect to inhibition of tumour growth and absence of toxicity to bone marrow.

The team will work in close collaboration with Dr Mark Gaze, a consultant clinical oncologist at University College London Hospitals. Dr Gaze is the clinical lead for radioactive MIBG therapy in the UK and Europe; he has taken an existing combination treatment through pilot clinical studies and is now developing a European trial. His involvement will help to enable rapid translation of positive laboratory findings into improved clinical treatment.

What difference will this project make?

Neuroblastoma is one of the most common childhood cancers. In around half of patients, the disease has already spread at the time of diagnosis and is difficult to eradicate even with the most intensive treatment regimes.

New treatment approaches are urgently needed to not only improve the outlook for these young patients but to reduce toxicity.

‘Neuroblastoma is rare but devastating and currently is one of the most difficult childhood cancers to treat because of late diagnosis. This therapy is one of the only treatments available. It is highly effective and with optimisation to reduce normal tissue damage, offers real prospects of cure for affected children.’ Independent reviewer.

* this project is being funded in collaboration with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, with each charity contributing 50% of the total cost of £158,857.

Read more: About neuroblastoma

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