dr. jensen update

An update from Dr. Mike Jensen – 
Director of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research

Reflecting on the incredible energy generated by the benefit 2012, which by now feels a lot like a family reunion, it occurred to me that I can keep you up to date on what is happening at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research using the internet — it is called blogging and Carin has promised to help with the intricacies of “posting”. Miraculous!!

First, THANK YOU for your amazing support of Ben Towne Foundation over the last year!! Second, your warm welcome to my research scientists who attended the event has inspired each of them and energized the laboratory. There has been a sustained spike in the number of emails and texts that come in on nights and weekends from the lab with news of experiments that advance our understanding and progress towards clinical trials. Your BTCCCR research team is running on high-octane overdrive and the acceleration is abundantly clear.

Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research Team

Shortly following benefit 2012, having the FDA’s authorization to open our first T cell trial for relapsed leukemia, we received approval from the hospital’s Institutional Review Board to begin enrolling patient’s. Dr. Rebecca Gardner has the clinical research team ready to go and the T cell bio-factory stands ready for manufacturing the engineered T cells for each patient enrolled. As is typical for a Phase I trial (ours will enroll up to 26 patients) using a brand new form of therapy, the FDA has us proceeding one patient at a time starting with very low cell doses. Once we have key safety data, the trials will accelerate in to larger Phase II trials to determine the frequency at which the T cells are able to put these children in remission. This is painstaking work and the safety of each child is paramount to making progress for all children. Stay with us on this journey in to the clinic.

Meanwhile back in the lab we have reached a critical point in our development of the next generation of T cell therapy for neuroblastoma. At the benefit 2012 you saw Dr Annette Kuenkele’s, our amazing guest physician-scientist from Germany, microscope video of the neuroblastoma killing T cells (that is when I lapsed in to my Al Pacino Scarface bit, “Hey neuroblastoma, say heeelloo to my little friends”). Annette has been testing and retesting the various molecular Velcro molecules that are the basis of how the reprogrammed T cells recognize the neuroblastoma tumor cells. We have identified the “winner” Velcro’s for the clinical trial. So with your help we have signed the contract to move forward with the production of the clinical-grade vector (the vector is the tool we use to get the reprogramming new DNA in to the T cells so they are able to produce the Velcro artificial receptors). That clinical-grade vector is essential for starting the first trial for children with relapsed neurblastoma and costs approximately $500k by the time it’s ready to use. Your 2012 BTF fundraising has made it possible for us to take this next step! Dr. Kuenkele, working under the expert guidance of Dr. Julie Park, Ben’s doctor and an internationally recognized expert in treating neuroblastoma, are now drafting the Phase I clinical protocol. Perhaps in 18-24 months we will be ready to submit this protocol to the FDA– I will keep you posted on our progress.

The Center has grown with the arrival of Dr. Courtney Crane who is rapidly bringing her research laboratory on line. Courtney is joining us from UCSF where she developed her interest in how brain tumors and the immune system interact. To help Courtney’s work accelerate, we are purchasing with BTF funds a $220k microscopy suite that will help distinguish the immune cells from the brain tumor cells when they interact in the brain. Through Courtney’s efforts, we are looking forward to future immunotherapies that work in the central nervous system to specifically target brain tumors. Brain tumors are the most common type of solid tumor in children and the therapy, in particular radiation therapy, is especially damaging to a child’s developing central nervous system. Courtney is definitely feeling the encouragement that comes from Ben Towne Foundation support.

I hope this blog helps keep you more closely connected with the progress we are making at the Center. If you have not been to the Center for a visit and tour, please, we welcome you to see our research in action.  Thank you for your courageous generosity!!

–Mike