Harnessing the Power from Within to Tackle DIPG/DMG « Charlie Teo Foundation

Harnessing the Power from Within to Tackle DIPG/DMG

Researcher name: Dr Matt Dun
Institution: University of Newcastle, AUS
Grant name: Alegra’s Army Grant
Grant amount: Up to $326K
Grant years: 2020-2022

Meet the Researcher

Dr Matt Dun is an exceptional cancer researcher. He has enjoyed continuous Fellowship funding from the Cancer Institute NSW, and the National Health and Medical Research Council since the completion of his PhD (2012); collecting 15 national and international research awards. He added childhood brain cancer research to his program after the devastating diagnosis of his own 2-year-old daughter Josephine, with diffuse midline glioma (DMG), formally known as DIPG.

This project looks to utilise the patient’s own immune system; to harness the power from within and identify signposts on DMG cancer cells that can be used as beacons for the immune system to recognise and subsequently attack the cancer.

The current survival of a child diagnosed with DMG is only 9 months. Through the team’s research efforts, they were able to extend survival for Josie to 21 months, which is an enormous feat despite her tragic passing. The project is now looking at how this was possible and trying to apply these learnings to other children with DMG.

The goal of this project is to increase survival with better immune-based therapies for the treatment of DMG. This was achieved in one case of DMG and the project looks to expand this to other children with DMG.   

Harnessing the power from within: Neoantigen immunopeptidomics for the development of immunotherapies for the treatment of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG)

Occurring in the brain stem, diffuse midline glioma (DMG) is  responsible for half of all brain cancer deaths in children. The brain stem controls vital functions such as breathing and heart rate, plus the nerves and muscles required for sight, hearing, movement, swallowing and speech. Primarily affecting children and young adolescents (median age 7 years), the average survival is just 9 months post diagnosis. Radiotherapy (offered at diagnosis) provides transient benefits and is considered palliative. Tumour location precludes resection and chemotherapy approaches (historical and current) have not increased survival.

Progress in treating DMG faces two major barriers: the lack of DMG-specific biological knowledge, and how to circumvent the brain’s protective mechanism, the blood brain barrier (BBB). The BBB acts as a shield to stop toxins moving from the blood stream into the brain, including chemotherapies and other pharmacological treatments.

Recently, recurring gene mutations that drive DMG disease initiation and progression have been identified. The unique combinations of mutations identified suggest the tumour is able to continue to grow and survive despite specific, mutation-matched, pharmacological targeting. Therefore, to improve outcomes for children with DMG, we look to utilise the patient’s own immune system. To harness the power from within in the fight against DMG. We will identify molecules presented to the patient’s immune system as foreign (i.e. tumour-specific gene products) that can be used in the development of novel immunological therapies.