During his research at the VU University Medical Center – in the group of dr. Esther Hulleman – Hans and his team were involved in the development of the first generation of laboratory and animal models of DIPG, which enabled the study of this rare disease. By studying these models they have discovered a characteristic of DIPG cells that is responsible for the high level of resistance to treatment of the tumor cells, the so-called mesenchymal transition.
By simultaneously inhibiting two proteins associated with the mesenchymal transition – AXL and HDAC- in DIPG cells they were able to selectively kill these cells, as well as sensitize them to other therapies. They identified two drugs – bemcentinib and panobinostat – that were capable of effectively inhibiting these proteins in the brains of mice with DIPG, resulting in a regression of these tumors and extending the survival of the mice.
Currently, the team is working in the Princess Máxima Center on refining this treatment and investigating the combination with radio- and immunotherapy. Simultaneously, the team is working on setting up a clinical trial to study the efficacy of this treatment in children with DIPG. All of these studies are made possible by a generous donation of the Semmy Foundation.