New techniques for delivery of therapies against medulloblastoma

01 March 2013

Dr Amin Hajitou, Imperial College London.

Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumour in children. Seventy per cent of children can now be cured but the aggressive treatments can leave survivors with significant disability. Dr Hajitou is working on the development of a new method for delivering chemotherapy directly to the tumour. If he succeeds, this work could ultimately result in the development of a much-needed, less damaging new treatment option for young patients with medulloblastoma.  

Amount of grant: £219,854  |  Date of award: March 2013

Overview

Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumour in children. Whilst around 70 per cent of affected children can now be cured, this comes at a high cost as the aggressive nature of the treatment leaves survivors with a poor quality of life, often suffering serious physical and mental disabilities.

The development of new, non-invasive, tumour specific, safer, effective treatment approaches is urgently needed in order to preserve quality of life in young medulloblastoma patients.

One of the central problems in treating brain tumours is their location. It is often difficult to completely remove tumours surgically without damaging surrounding brain tissue; radiotherapy may also damage healthy brain tissue; and chemotherapy must be delivered locally to the tumour as intravenous drugs will not pass the blood-brain barrier.

Advances are being made in the development of new, biologically-targeted therapies but there is still no effective, non-invasive method of delivering these therapies to the tumour.

To overcome this problem, Dr Hajitou is working on the development of a new mechanism for the delivery of drugs to the brain, to bypass the blood-brain barrier. He is engineering a special virus to carry therapeutic agents directly to the tumour. He will use a so-called bacteriophage particle, which has long been safely administered to both adults and children in antibiotic therapy, as a vector to deliver the therapy.

In the course of this project, he will develop and test the technology in his laboratory, first in vitro and then using mice to confirm effectiveness and safety.

About the research team

Dr Amin Hajitou is a leading authority in phage technology. Having trained at the world-leading MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, he brought the technology to London, establishing his own lab at Imperial College. Dr Hajitou’s team at Imperial is collaborating with neurosurgeon Mr Kevin O’Neill from Charing Cross Hospital, who will supply the human tumour tissue, and neuropathologist Professor Steve Gentleman, also of Imperial College, who will assess brain and other tissue for damage.

What difference will this project make?

This is a crucially important project. New therapies for medulloblastoma are desperately needed, not only to improve the survival rate for young patients, but to preserve quality of life.

If this project is successful, Dr Hajitou will pave the way for clinical trial in young medulloblastoma patients, offering a much-needed, less damaging new treatment option for young patients with medulloblastoma.

Read more: About childhood brain tumours | Other brain tumour research | Brain tumour initiative

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