Targeting Brain Tumors: The Quest for a Cure, Not a Treatment

Courtney Crane

Dr. Courtney Crane had a plan: Medical school, then a career as a physician.

When her father developed leukemia, she scrapped the plan – not so she could avoid medicine, but so she could revolutionize it. Crane dove deep into immunology, the science that extended and improved her father’s life dramatically. “He was treated with monoclonal antibodies,” she explains, “and he lived nine years. Good years.”

In Crane’s lab at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, she pursues immunotherapies to fight myoglioblastoma, a particularly aggressive brain cancer. It’s a challenging foe, because the tumors trick the immune system into ignoring them. “The tumor makes itself look like a wound that’s healing,” she explains, “so it’s essentially invisible.”

Crane and her team are genetically reengineering macrophages – large white blood cells – so they can recognize and destroy tumor cells. “We’re starting with brain tumors because they’re notoriously immunosuppressive,” she says, “and because it’s easy to deliver the therapy directly into the tumor.”

If it works against brain tumors, the therapy could be adapted to destroy tumors in the liver, kidneys, pancreas, bone and other sites.

“Lots and lots and lots of tumors have similar immunosuppressive barriers in place,” Crane says, “so we think we can address multiple cancers with a single clinical trial.”

The work is ready for trial, but that trial won’t come cheap: a one-time cost of up to $500,000, she estimates, plus another $80,000 per patient.

“This project would never have happened without philanthropy,” Crane notes. “Now we need additional philanthropy to keep the momentum going.” To pay it forward. To perfect new immunotherapies that give another family the same gift Crane’s family received years ago: More good years. More good life.

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