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Ther Adv Med Oncol. 2017 May;9(5):347-368. doi: 10.1177/1758834017693750. Epub 2017 Feb 1.

History and current state of immunotherapy in glioma and brain metastasis.

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Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Neurology, 300 Pasteur Drive, Stanford, CA 94305-2200, USA.
Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Neurosurgery, Stanford, CA, USA.
Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Neurology, Stanford, CA, USA.


Malignant brain tumors such as glioblastoma (GBM) and brain metastasis have poor prognosis despite conventional therapies. Successful use of vaccines and checkpoint inhibitors in systemic malignancy has increased the hope that immune therapies could improve survival in patients with brain tumors. Manipulating the immune system to fight malignancy has a long history of both modest breakthroughs and pitfalls that should be considered when applying the current immunotherapy approaches to patients with brain tumors. Therapeutic vaccine trials for GBM date back to the mid 1900s and have taken many forms; from irradiated tumor lysate to cell transfer therapies and peptide vaccines. These therapies were generally well tolerated without significant autoimmune toxicity, however also did not demonstrate significant clinical benefit. In contrast, the newer checkpoint inhibitors have demonstrated durable benefit in some metastatic malignancies, accompanied by significant autoimmune toxicity. While this toxicity was not unexpected, it exceeded what was predicted from pre-clinical studies and in many ways was similar to the prior trials of immunostimulants. This review will discuss the history of these studies and demonstrate that the future use of immune therapy for brain tumors will likely need a personalized approach that balances autoimmune toxicity with the opportunity for significant survival benefit.


brain neoplasms; immunotherapy

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Conflict of interest statement: The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

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