December 20, 2018
Marking the 25th anniversary of the annual Robert L. Campbell Lectureship, invited lecturer Linda Liau, MD, PhD, provided a window into her ongoing research to treat malignant brain tumors including glioblastoma— the most common type of brain cancer in adults.
In an address titled, “Brain Tumor Immunotherapy: Lessons Learned and New Directions,” Dr. Liau first expressed gratitude for being the first woman to be selected as a Campbell Lecturer at the December 5 event held at IU’s Goodman Hall Auditorium.
“I am honored to be named in a long line of scientists whose work I have admired for years,” Dr. Liau said. She is a professor and the W. Eugene Stern Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
A number of cancers are effectively treated by engaging the immune system to attack tumors. Liau’s research aims to include brain cancer among this group.
“While 20 immunotherapy drugs have gained FDA approval since 2015 to treat other cancers including melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, Hodgkins lymphoma, and cancer of the bladder and liver, no drugs for glioblastoma have had similar approval,” Liau explained.
“One of the frustrations in our work is that you can never get every cancer cell of a glioblastoma, even through radiation and chemotherapy, so the idea that your immune system can attack and remove the cancer cell is quite intriguing.”
Liau also described one of the main challenges is measuring whether an immunotherapy drug is working against a glioblastoma tumor. After injections of these drugs, a tumor may enlarge (“pseudoprogression”) for possibly 6 months before it gets smaller. Therefore, standard imaging techniques, such as MRI, to assess whether tumors are growing or shrinking in response to treatment are not as sufficient in brain cancer.
Dr. Liau and her research team at UCLA have been investigating a dendritic cell vaccine known as DCVax-L® that is currently in a Phase III clinical trial of newly diagnosed glioblastoma patients. The international, multi-centered study is being conducted at 80 sites in the US (including IU), Canada, and Europe with 331 enrolled patients. Of the 331 patients, 90% were treated with DCVax-L at some point. Results have shown median overall survival of 23.1 months and 28.2% patient survival at 3 years.
Dr. Liau earned her MD degree from Stanford University and a PhD in Neuroscience from UCLA. She also has an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. She has been the Principal Investigator on several research grants and clinical trials, and her work has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health for the past 20 years.
About the Campbell Lecture
The Robert Campbell Lectureship honors Dr. Robert L. Campbell, one of the giants in the neurosurgery specialty. Dr. Campbell completed his residency in neurological surgery at Indiana University Medical Center in 1957 and became a member of the faculty—quickly rising to the leadership position of Section head in 1964, which he remained until 1992. Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine was partly named in his honor. Dr. Campbell passed away on August 16, 2018 at the age of 92.