Researchers discover potential cancer-fighting T cells within some pediatric brain tumor patients

Jan. 29, 2024
New research suggests a small group of pediatric brain tumor patients may benefit from immunotherapy.

Scientists at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) have published an in-depth study into how the immune system’s T cells target pediatric brain tumors. Their research suggests that a small number of pediatric brain tumor patients already have cancer-fighting T cells within their tumors.

This discovery, published recently in Nature Cancer, is an important step toward helping identify which pediatric brain tumor patients might benefit from cancer-fighting immunotherapies.

LJI Clinical Associate and UC San Diego Assistant Professor Anusha Preethi Ganesan, M.D., Ph.D. co-led the new study with LJI Professor Pandurangan Vijayanand, M.D., Ph.D. 

For the new study, Ganesan collected tumor samples from 38 children who had been patients at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. The team looked for T cells within the tumors and discovered that T cell levels varied widely between patients. This variation may help explain why immunotherapy trials in children have shown such inconsistent results.

The researchers then used genetic sequencing tools to examine more than 41,000 T cells found in these brain tumor samples. They looked at gene expression in these T cells to see whether the cells could potentially destroy tumors. 

They found that a small number of patients had large numbers of T cells that responded to markers, called neoantigens, on the brain tumor cells. These T cells appeared to have “effector” functions, which means they could potentially destroy tumor cells.

The researchers are now working to translate these findings to the clinic.

La Jolla Institute for Immunology release on Newswise