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New grant will support chordoma immunotherapy research at Johns Hopkins Medicine

Exploring how chordomas interact with the immune system and resist attack.


Immunotherapy is an approach that harnesses patients’ own immune systems to recognize and destroy their tumors. In recent years, it’s shown tremendous promise against several cancers. To ensure that chordoma patients benefit from these advances as well, investing in immunotherapy research is one of the Chordoma Foundation’s top priorities. Our newest immunotherapy grant will support a project to characterize the complex interactions between chordoma tumor cells and the immune system with the goal of identifying new treatment approaches for chordoma patients.

Leading this work is surgeon-scientist Dr. Nyall London, who holds dual appointments at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health through the Otolaryngology Surgeon-Scientist Program. He brings extensive expertise in immunotherapy for skull base and head and neck tumors. This study will be performed in close collaboration with Dr. James Gulley, Director of the Medical Oncology Service at the National Cancer Institute and a leading expert in cancer immunotherapy.

To discover how chordomas interact with the immune system and resist attack, Dr. London’s team will use a state-of-the-art imaging tool called multispectral immunofluorescence. This will allow them to determine what types of immune cells are found within chordoma tumors, and how they’re physically arranged within the tumor.

The scientists will also look for the presence of various proteins both on tumor cells and immune cells within the tumors that could be targetable with new and emerging immunotherapy drugs. These include, for example, various proteins that tumors use to escape detection or rebuff attack by immune cells. While some of these markers have been studied before, by looking at a greater number of markers and using the more information-rich multispectral immunofluorescence technique, this study will help paint a more complete picture of the chordoma-immune interplay.

Nyall London Jr, MD, PhD
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Importantly, this project will also check for actionable differences in immune profiles between tumors of different subsets of the patient population to enable any new treatment approaches that are identified to be applied in a more personalized manner.

We expect that this work will contribute to brand new ideas about how to treat chordoma with immunotherapy. It’s also possible that observations made in the course of this project could uncover new mechanisms by which chordomas evade the body’s immune defenses – findings that could be relevant to other cancers, too.

Alongside this endeavor, Dr. London is also involved in a new partnership with Chordoma Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member Dr. James Hodge in the Laboratory of Tumor Immunology and Biology at the National Cancer Institute. In collaboration with Dr. Hodge’s team, they are conducting a series of preclinical experiments to better understand mechanisms to enhance the effectiveness of immunotherapy in chordoma patients, which could inform future treatment strategies.

We appreciate the support of the Orokawa Foundation, which is helping ensure that the chordoma community will be included in immunotherapy advances. We’re also grateful to the patients who contributed tissue samples to our Biobank for use in this and many other projects

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