A tetanus booster may play a role in priming the immune system to enhance a vaccine for lethal brain tumors, a study published in Nature has shown.

Previous studies showed that glioblastoma tumors contain a cytomegalovirus (CMV) strain not present in surrounding brain tissue, allowing an immunotherapy targeted approach. Researchers from the Duke Cancer Institute developed a process to extract white blood cells, grow dendritic cells, and load them with the viral antigens. The dendritic cells were injected into the patient where the immune system would then find and attack the CMV-laden tumor. Though the immunotherapy worked well, the team chose to use a tetanus/diphtheria toxoid vaccine to prime the immune system prior to the dendritic cell infusion.

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In a small, randomized, patient-blinded trial, researchers enrolled 12 patients with brain tumors, of which half were randomized to receive a tetanus booster, and the other half a placebo injection. Patients in both groups were given dendritic cell immunotherapy the next day. Those who received the tetanus shot had a significant increase in survival from time of pre-conditioning vs. those who received dendritic cell therapy alone (51–101 months vs. 11.6 months, respectively).

Study findings suggest possibly enhancing dendritic cell vaccines for immunologic targeting of other cancers. Researchers are planning a new study to determine whether successful dendritic cell migration could be a possible prognostic indicator, as well as future larger confirmatory studies.

For more information DukeMedicine.org.