Grants

The DIPG / DMG Collaborative has funded $13,111,073 in DIPG/DMG research.

Interested in applying for a grant from the DIPG / DMG Collaborative? Learn more.


Children's Cancer Institute - $99,251

Date
September 2020
Research Type

Translational

Discovering New Epigenetic Players in DIPG Oncogenesis

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is the most aggressive brain tumour in children. DIPG accounts for 10-15 percent of all paediatric central nervous system tumours. Every year in US 300 children are diagnosed with DIPG and 300 children will die of this disease. By conducting fundamental research, we will investigate companion proteins, called epigenetic factors, of H3.3K27M, the most prevalent mutation found in DIPG, that contribute to the development of this cancer. Despite the fact that these protein partners are key to the normal functioning of H3.3 and have been link to other cancers, they have never been investigated in the context of DIPG. This study will lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets tailored for DIPG, an urgent need of this disease.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital - $110,000

Date
September 2020
Research Type

Translational

Development of Histone Demethylase Inhibitor Against DIPG

For a child is diagnosed with a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma so called DIPG, the options for treatment are scarce and so are the chances for survival. This aggressive brain tumor generally strikes children who are 6 years old and younger, with most surviving less than two year after diagnosis. DIPG has a specific gene mutation, leads to change a function of DNA binding protein, histone. This gene mutation thought to be a specific therapeutic target that
 could be used to make new effective drugs to help kids with DIPG get better. We recently showed that the drug targeting specific histone enzyme, named GSK-J4, delay tumor growth and increase survival of mice implanted human DIPG cells. Because of its promising anti-tumor activities, GSK-J4 has been used to treat many kinds of tumors in animal models including leukemia, lymphoma, prostate and gastric cancer, and DIPG; however, GSK-J4 is not yet in clinical development for treating patients. The major challenge for GSK-J4 in clinical development is that GSK-J4 is a drug that is rapidly changed to the active drug GSKJ1, which has limited to enter the tumor cells in the brain. We have developed a novel compound that is derived from GSK-J1, named UR-8, as a lead anti-cancer compound through our drug screening. UR-8 has showed selective cytotoxic activity against human DIPG cells and apparently transported to the brain with a useful extent based on its in vivo stability and effectiveness. UR-8 showed greater anti-tumor activity and survival benefit than that obtained by GSK-J4 treatment in human DIPG animal models. Based on the observation of this lead compound, UR-8, we will further develop new drugs which are similar to GSK-J4/J1 to increase the potency, specificity, and brain transport features. We will test cytotoxicity and assess safety and tolerability of new compounds in DIPG mouse models.
Our long-term goal is to use new compounds in combination with radiation which is used routinely for the treatment of DIPG patient. We will treat DIPG mouse models with a new compound alone or in combination with radiation. Our basic drug discovery, in combination with therapeutic testing in animal models, in turn, will therefore provide insights for testing a novel therapeutic approach for treating currently incurable pediatric brain tumors.

The Hospital for Sick Children - $100,000

Date
September 2020
Research Type

Translational

Methionne Deptrivation as a Therapeutic Strategy for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma

After decades of clinical trials, no effective treatment has yet been found for DIPG. While we now know a lot about the genetics of this disease, this has unfortunately not thus far led to improved survival for children with DIPG. To better understand the disrupted pathways in DIPG we performed an analysis of their proteins and how these differed from normal brain. One of the interesting pathways that came up was the methionine (an essential amino acid) metabolism pathway. We then tested DIPG patient cells and found that they are particularly sensitive to methionine withdrawal. Here we propose to test the effects of methionine deprivation on cell survival, death, and proliferation as well as methionine metabolism of DIPG cells. We will then test the ability of methionine deprivation to prolong survival in mice harboring DIPG either alone, or together with radiation. We will learn why low methionine levels are detrimental to cancer cells and tolerable to normal cells and how this can be utilized therapeutically. Low methionine diets are very tolerable to humans and are similar to a vegan diet thus this method is readily transferable to the clinic without extended drug approval requirement and expense. Methionine dependency has never before been studied in DIPG and represents a novel approach to therapeutically target DIPG.

Hunter Medical Research Institute - $145,640

Date
September 2020
Research Type

Informational

Combatt DMG: Combined Anti-tumor Targeting of Diffuse Midline Gliomas

Paediatric high-grade glioma of the brainstem – diffuse midline glioma (DMG), represent the most aggressive primary tumor of the central nervous system (CNS) and are responsible for half of all brain cancer deaths in children. Recent scientific advances provide much needed insight into the biology of the disease – particularly the genetic characteristics of patient biopsies and autopsies, providing clues regarding the gene mutations that influence cancer growth, and the ability of the tumor to continue to grow, or to sidestep, despite drug treatment. However, the specific knowledge of the mechanisms underpinning how the tumor moves and grow among and through normal brain structures, is still unknown.
Our group shows the drug ‘paxalisib’ (which readily crosses the blood brain barrier) potently inhibits ‘PI3K/Akt/mTOR' – a cell communication axis that influences growth, proliferation and that contributes to energy production. Profiling the activity of proteins (phosphoproteomics) in DMG tumor cells following treatment with paxalisib, identified that the tumor amplified communication (Protein kinase C - PKC) pathways that activate migratory and infiltrative growth dissemination (‘diffuse’/’intrinsic’, hallmarks of DMG). These finding led us to test the hypothesis that dual targeting of PI3K/Akt/mTOR and PKC has the potential to improve outcomes for DMG patients by stopping proliferative and infiltrative growth.
For the first time, we have subjected DMG cells to global phosphoproteomic profiling, +/- treatment with paxalisib and rapamycin (mTOR inhibitor), to expose the signalling pathways responsible for continued growth, survival and ultimately the development of treatment resistance. Our efforts sought to identify which of the spectrum of pathways become over-activated in patients following PI3K inhibition, in the hope that these pathways could be simultaneously targeted at diagnosis and/or at disease progression and/or as a drug target when resistance occurs. All DMG cell lines were sensitive to paxalisib (0.197-1.128 IC ); with biochemical investigations confirming potent inhibition of PI3K/Akt signaling. However, PI3K or mTOR inhibition potently activated PKC, and downstream proteins that control the dynamic remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton that influence cell motility, alter cell polarity and drive invasion of the tumor; aiding escape from radiation therapy, and in this case, PI3K and mTOR inhibition.
Targeting the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway is an approach that has been trialed in many cancers. The pathway is recognized as one of the most overactive growth, proliferation, cellular metabolism pathways in cancer, however, this strategy has yielded little clinical benefit, as therapy resistance quickly develops. The PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway also plays a pivotal role in the metabolic and mitogenic (cell division) actions of insulin produced in response to increased blood sugar levels. The catalytic enzyme of the PI3K signalling axis, ‘PIK3CA’, is frequently mutated in DMG (PI3KR1, PTEN, MTORC1, TSC1 also).
This is particularly important in DMG, as corticosteroids prescribed to attempt to control hallmark peritumoural inflammation and hydrocephalus have strong affinity for glucocorticoid receptors (so termed "glucocorticoids") which reduce inflammation, but also impact on glucose homeostasis, increasing blood glucose levels and stimulating appetite.
Recently, blood glucose and insulin levels were monitored in mice treated with several PI3K/Akt inhibitors (paxalisib excluded) currently in human clinical trials and showed PI3K inhibitors elevated blood glucose and insulin levels.
Furthermore, injection of insulin abrogated the antitumor efficacy of PI3K inhibitors in mice harboring PI3K-mutant breast cancers. These results, coupled with our identification of PKC activation in response to PI3K inhibition, provide a
mechanistic link that underpins resistance to PI3K/Akt/mTOR inhibitors in DMG that warrants rigorous investigation.
Our poilot data showed high-level synergistic cell death in 88% of DMG cell lines when treated with PI3K inhibitors in combination with PKC inhibitors, FDA approved to treat other cancers. Assessment of the level of PKC signaling in untreated DMG cell lines, revealed overactivation in 85% of cell lines; with the highest level of activation seen in patient samples harboring H3.3K27M mutations, linked with shortened overall survival compared to DMG patients diagnosed with H3.1K27M mutations or wildtype H3. In hindsight this is unsurprising: these high-grade gliomas, which originate in the pontine region of the brainstem, frequently disseminate into other midline structures (thalamus) and the cerebellum.
This project builds on strong pilot data, showing the important role of proteins that influence dynamic cellular remodeling, driving growth and migration into surrounding and distant tissues in advanced disease. Using complementary molecular (CRISPR-cas9 and shRNA), and pharmacological studies, coupled with sophisticated and
quantitative protein sequencing technologies, cell biology techniques and pre-clinical models, we will assess the functional role of PKC and activated actin cytoskeleton remodeling proteins, that influence cell motility, cell polarity, to drive invasion of the tumor; to aid in escape from radiation and emerging targeted therapies. This project will determine whether simultaneous targeting of growth/proliferation/metabolic pathways in combination with cell motility pathways is a treatment paradigm that will improve outcomes for patients.

International DIPG/DMG Registry And Repository - $862,671

Date
May 2020
Research Type

Informational

Diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG) are the most common brainstem tumors in children, representing approximately 75-80% of all pediatric brainstem tumors. Approximately 200-300 patients are diagnosed with DIPG North America and a similar number in Europe.  DIPG accounts for 10-15% of all new pediatric brain tumor diagnoses and is the leading cause of brain tumor-related death in children. The median age at diagnosis is 6 to 7 years with a median survival of less than 1 year. Although radiotherapy does improve neurological function and survival by 2-3 months, no effective chemotherapeutic regimens are currently available. The  International Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma/Diffuse Midline Glioma Registry (IDIPG/DMGR) represents  the largest and most comprehensive collection of linked clinical, radiologic, pathologic and gemomics data  from a diverse cohort of DIPG patients available to researchers throughout the world.  With the generous support of a coalition of pediatric brain tumor foundations forming the DIPG Collaborative, and collaborations with 113 academic medical centers in 15 countries, the IDIPG/DMGR continues to expand. From April 2012 to December 2019, 1086 patients diagnosed with DIPG have been enrolled.  The radiology repository contains 5405 studies from over 700 patients. Images from 589 patients have been centrally reviewed. The pathology repository contains 3562 specimens on 125 patients. Sixty-two autopsies have been coordinated by the IDIPGR.  Fresh DIPG tissue from 20 autopsies has been sent to investigators to develop primary cell cultures. Five   primary cell lines have been established. 199 genomic data sets are available including whole genome, whole exome, and/or RNA seq, and methylation.  Investigators from around the world are currently conducting 20 projects using data/tissue from the DIPG/DMG Registry.  Six additional studies have been published. In 2019, the steering committee of the IDIPGR approved the expansion of the Registry to include patients with diffuse midline gliomas. The first 11 patients with DMG have now been enrolled in the IDIPG/DMG Registry.

Sydney Children's Hospital - $151,468

Date
December 2019
Research Type

Translational

Developing New Epigenetic Combination Treatments Against DIPG.

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is the most aggressive of all childhood cancers. Standard treatment with radiotherapy is only palliative and single drug chemotherapy is ineffective. We have found that DIPG cells are sensitive to a novel anticancer treatment. CBL0137 is a novel class of anticancer agents that can inhibit the action of a key protein complex called Facilitates Chromatin Transcription (FACT). The FACT complex controls multiple cancer –associated pathways that can lead to aberrant tumor growth. We have found that CBL0137 can inhibit further the growth of DIPG tumors when combined with other anticancer drugs such as panobinostat and JQ1. Furthermore preliminary testing has shown that CBL0137 can also be combined with other chemotherapeutic agents such as olaparib and ACT001. Olaparib is a clinically approved agent for ovarian and breast cancers where as ACT001 is currently in Phase 1 testing in pediatric patients with DIPG. In this project, we aim to develop these new combination therapy strategies in preclinical models of DIPG and obtain the necessary quantum of data to begin the transition of CBL0137 therapy from the bench to the bedside to directly benefit children with this devastating and currently incurable tumor.

University of Sydney - $100,000

Date
November 2019
Research Type

Translational

Targeting hypoxia and mitochondrial metabolism with repurposing drugs as an approach of radiosensitization for diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas.

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a rare and incurable brain tumor that arises in the brainstem of children predominantly between the ages of 6 and 9. Unlike many brain tumors, DIPGs cannot be removed through surgery due to its sensitive location. The standard of care today remains radiation therapy (RT) alone. Unfortunately, almost all DIPGs recur locally within 12 months secondary to radioresistance. Therefore, it is important to understand the mechanisms of radioresistance, as this may be used to improve the radiosensitivity and offer a pathway to the development of novel therapies for this deadly brain tumor. Hypoxia, a condition in which the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level, is a common microenvironmental feature of all solid tumors, playing a vital role in radioresistance. Recent reports showed that DIPGs are exposed to a hypoxic microenvironment, suggesting targeting of hypoxia may be effective to improve their radiosensitivity. My preliminary data have shown that the radiosensitivity of DIPG cells was significantly improved when treated with biguanide, a class of diabetes drug that can reduce hypoxia, and this radiosensitising effect was further improved when a second drug was combined to further modulate sugar metabolism. These findings could potentially form the basis for pharmaceutically targeting hypoxia and tumor metabolism as a new radiosensitising treatment for incurable DIPG. Children currently diagnosed with DIPG have no hope of cure and are offered palliative treatment only. RT is the only effective treatment for DIPG to date although it only provides relief of tumor-related symptoms in roughly 70% patients. However, all DIPGs recur locally secondary to radioresistance, thus improving the effect of RT remains the most promising avenue to better outcomes in DIPG patients. Cells under hypoxia, a condition where the tissues do not have enough oxygen supply, are 2-3 times more resistant to RT than cells that are well oxygenated at the time of irradiation [1]. A recent study reported that DIPG cells are exposed to a hypoxic microenvironment, suggesting these cells are intrinsically resistant to RT [2]. These findings also suggest that targeting hypoxia may be an effective strategy to overcome the radioresistance of DIPG cells. Biguanides (metformin/phenformin) are a class of drugs that are currently used in clinic for the treatment of Type II diabetes. Apart from lowering blood sugar level, biguanides can also reduce the oxygen consumption of cells by targeting mitochondria, the rod-shaped organelles that can be considered the power generators of cells. By lowering tumor demand for oxygen, the hypoxic condition can thus be lessened. In our pilot studies, we have observed that metformin largely improved the efficacy of RT in a mouse model carrying DIPG cells in their brains. This exciting result led us to further optimize this strategy such that a better efficacy can be achieved. Given metformin is reliant on certain transporters to enter tumor cells [3], we proposed to use a similar drug phenformin as it does not rely on those transporters to enter cells [4], thereby allowing higher drug concentration in tumor cells. Strikingly, phenformin is ~30 times stronger than metformin to slow the growth of DIPG cells. Phenformin reduced oxygen consumption rate which in turn increased lactic acid production. Given high level of lactic acid is the primary adverse effect of phenformin and strongly correlates with poor clinical outcome, a strategy is thus needed to counteract this unfavorable side effect. Dichloroacetate (DCA), a compound that lowers blood lactic acid levels, was selected to offset this side effect, not only because it is an orphan drug to treat high level of lactic acid, it is also well tolerated by children [5]. When DCA was combined with phenformin, the high level of lactic acid production was largely blocked. Surprisingly, the combination also led to a much stronger cell killing effect by depriving tumor cells of energy supply and damaging their DNA. Moreover, the combination also reduced the level of two master regulators that collaboratively enhance the cancer cell growth/survival and metabolic needs through increased uptake of sugar and contribute significantly to radioresistance. When RT was combined with phenformin and DCA, the most effective activity was observed, with the triple combination leading to the lowest number of surviving DIPG cells. More importantly, both phenformin and DCA can readily cross blood-brain-barrier (BBB), have long been used in clinics, and are very well tolerated by young children. Therefore, they are the drugs with the most amount of testing and closest to being tested in clinical trials. Given the results generated from this project will be rapidly translated to clinic and benefit children with DIPG, the anticipated impact of this research project is of great significance: it may lead to a change in treatment regimen resulting in longer survival rates for the pediatric patients with newly diagnosed DIPG.

University of Michigan Hospitals - $157,856

Date
November 2019
Research Type

Translational

Therapeutic reversal of pre-natal pontine ID1 signaling in DIPG

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a lethal pediatric brain tumor wand few children with this diagnosis survive up to two years. Even with the advent of precision-based medicine, experimental therapies have yet to show benefit beyond standard radiation, highlighting the dire need to identify and investigate novel genetic therapeutic targets in DIPG. DIPG researchers now know that the patterns of mutations driving the growth of DIPG are unique, when compared to other childhood tumors and adult high-grade gliomas.  As many as 85% of DIPGs harbor mutations in histone H3 variant H3.3, coded for by the H3F3A gene – and our work and others have shown that this mutation results in critical changes in tumor biology.  It is therefore necessary to consider H3.3 mutational status when investigating novel therapeutic targets and pathways for DIPG.

Recent work by our collaborative team has demonstrated a critical genetic target in DIPG, inhibitor of DNA binding 1 (ID1). Inhibitor of DNA binding (ID) proteins are key regulators of pre-natal tissue growth and its regulation has been tied to the pathogenesis of many diseases including DIPG. Our lab has exciting preliminary data that DIPG tumor cells re-activate ID1 signaling that was used pre-natally to build the normal pons, resulting in many of the most aggressive features in DIPG.  We have also found that cannabidiol (CBD), the non-toxic and non-psychoactive member of the endocannabinoid family found in Cannabis Sativa, can reduce ID1 levels and the viability of DIPG tumor cells in vitro.  In order to define ID1 as a therapeutic target in a clinically relevant manner, it is important to establish whether ID1 can be effectively targeted in mouse models of DIPG and to understand how ID1 signaling may be regulated in different H3.3 mutational subgroups.

The experiments outlined in this protocol will answer meaningful questions about the mechanism underlying ID1-driven DIPG invasion and potentially open novel therapeutic avenues. In particular, the possible use of CBD therapy to target the ID1 pathway in DIPG is a clinically relevant but scientifically unexplored question in DIPG.

Dayton Children's Hospital - $69,600

Date
November 2019
Research Type

Translational

Responses of distinct cell populations to PDGFRA inhibitors in diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.

No cure has been found for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), after more than 250 clinical trials.  Evidence for excessive signaling by platelet-derived growth factor receptor alpha (PDGFRA) is commonly found in biopsies of DIPG, but attempts to inhibit this protein has failed as a clinical strategy.  Based on recently published studies evaluating the RNA of individual cells, we are testing the hypothesis that only a fraction of DIPG cells are sensitive to treatments that inhibit PDGFRA signaling.  Using a technique that evaluates protein levels in single cells, this will be the first attempt to validate the previously published RNA data suggesting that multiple cell types are present within the tumor, and correlate the patterns with drug sensitivity.  With the long-term goal of deriving rational therapeutic targets from biopsy tissue, this project could improve patient selection for PDGFRA inhibition by characterizing its effects at the level of individual cells and across the different cell types within DIPG.  

Institute of Cancer Research - $121,863

Date
November 2019
Research Type

Translational

Targeting Top3A-Amplified DIPG cells by Sirtuin inhibition.

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a malignant brainstem tumour arising in children representing a major unmet clinical need, with a 2-year survival rate close to zero. With chemotherapy ineffective and surgical intervention not possible, new therapeutic approaches are urgently required based upon the unique biological mechanisms driving DIPG tumorigenesis. We recently discovered amplification of the gene TOP3A to play an important role in a proportion of DIPGs. Critically, cells driven by this genetic alteration to be exquisitely sensitive to inhibitors of sirtuin, which appears to link TOP3A to DNA repair. We plan to explore this in more detail by turning off, and/or turning on the gene in DIPG cells, in order to better understand it’s precise function. We will also screen a range of drugs known to target sirtuins, in order to determine which may be most useful in the clinic, both in cells grown in the laboratory as well as using patient-derived mouse models. We will further look for possible combinations with sirtuin inhibitors in order to further enhance the potential for rapid translation.