Understanding Immune Responses to Brain Tumors to Improve Glioblastoma Treatment

Genevieve Boland, MD, PhD
Gavin Dunn, MD, PhD
MGH Research Scholar 2024-2029
Physician Investigator, Neurosurgery, Massachusetts General Hospital
Associate Professor of Neurosurgery, Harvard Medical School

Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most frequently diagnosed brain cancer and remains incurable despite aggressive surgical resection followed by radiation treatment and chemotherapy.

Incredibly, as treatment strategies for other cancers have evolved with cutting edge precision medicine and/or immune-based treatments, the standard of care for GBM has not changed in over 18 years.

It is especially notable that, as immunotherapy has had a seismic influence on oncology and changed cancer care within the last decade, there remain no FDA approved immunotherapies for GBM.

Our motivating premise is that we can advance brain tumor immunotherapy if we better understand how the immune response in the central nervous system (CNS) is supposed to work.  Unlike other locations in the body, the CNS is immunologically specialized, and thus understanding how immune responses develop to cancers in this location is imperative.  In particular, we are interested in the following key questions in the “brain tumor immunity cycle”:

  • How does the immune system become aware there is a tumor growing in the brain?
  • How do brain tumor antigens transit, and how and where are they presented?
  • What are the antigens recognized by tumor-specific T cells?
  • How can we direct T cells to attack brain tumor cells in patients?

More recently, we have also become interested in how neurons and the tissue-specific signals in the CNS ecosystem influence how the immune system sees brain tumors.

As our program continues to evolve, our goal is to translate our understanding of the unique features of the immune response in the CNS to patients.

The Mass General ethos of excellent patient care synergizing with world-class research has always inspired me. I am thrilled and humbled by this award, which will accelerate our work to better understand the immune response to brain tumors and, hopefully, lead to new insights that translate into therapies for our patients.

Gavin Dunn, MD, PhD
MGH Research Scholar 2024-2029