Targeting the tumour-brain interface « Charlie Teo Foundation

Targeting the tumour-brain interface

Researcher name: A/Prof Xi Huang
Institution: The Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto, Canada
Grant Name: Research Rebels
Grant amount (AUD): $200k
Grant Awarded: 2024
Status: Ongoing

Meet the Researcher

A/Prof Xi Huang is an Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto, Canada. Xi completed his PhD in the development of brain cancer at Vanderbilt University.

Xi recently developed the first ever drug in its class in the world to disrupt communication between neurons and brain cancer cells.

Xi’s work was published on the front cover of the prestigious journal Nature Cancer in October 2023. He hopes this drug will be the next generation therapy on a global scale to benefit brain cancer patients in the future. That thought makes Xi the happiest man alive!

Beyond this recent discovery, he has a superstar track record of pursuing unorthodox brain tumour research that has led to innovative discoveries. This includes the use of Precision Magnetics to destroy GBM cells from within, how brain tumours become stiff and why this is important, and how brain tumours escape chemotherapy.

His excellence is illustrated with prestigious awards including a Sontag Foundation Distinguished Scientist Award. Xi was also a Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Francisco – awarded to emerging scientists with highly novel and impactful ideas. He holds the highly respected Government position of Canada Research Chair in Cancer Biophysics.

This project is game-changing because A/Prof. Huang’s lab have developed the world’s first-in-class designer peptide that disrupts communication between neurons and GBM cells, a crucial aspect often overlooked in brain cancer treatment. Notably, the peptide demonstrates efficacy even in chemo-resistant tumours, offering hope to patients with limited treatment options.

This project holds immense promise in offering hope and tangible benefits to people battling brain cancer. This approach not only inhibits tumour growth with minimal apparent toxicity but also holds potential in overcoming resistance to standard chemotherapy, providing renewed hope for patients facing limited treatment options. Additionally, by activating the immune system, the project offers the possibility of harnessing the body's own defences to fight the cancer, paving the way for more effective and comprehensive treatment strategies for individuals affected by GBM.

While immunotherapy has proven effective in treating various types of cancer, GBM remains a challenge due to its immunosuppressive environment. A novel peptide has been engineered to disrupt the EAG2 and Kvβ2 potassium channel complex, a key communication facilitator between neurons and GBM cells, showing strong effectiveness in treating GBM, including temozolomide-resistant GBMs. Interestingly, preliminary data suggests that this peptide not only reduces neoplastic cells but also remodels the immune microenvironment, increasing tumour-associated macrophages/microglia and T cells. Additionally, the treatment induces the expression of pro-inflammatory factors, suggesting an enhanced immune response.

The overarching aims in this grant includes:

Aim 1. Determine the impact of designer peptide treatment on GBM immune microenvironment.

Aim 2. Determine the therapeutic efficacy of combining designer peptide and immunotherapy.