Posted on 9 October 2015
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
“We have had some treatment-related deaths. That’s been true in the field as well as in our own experience”Getting the right balance A powerful treatment requires caution, but research is revealing how to activate safely and specifically. The odd cancerous cell appears in young, healthy people, but immune cells generally dispatch them quickly. One way cancer can survive is by tricking and masking its presence,but a promising route in immunotherapy is to remove this cloaking. This tactic is called checkpoint blockade, and applies antibodies to find the tumour and intensify the immune response. This treatment has fewer side effects in skin cancer patients than lung cancer, but only recently have scientists begun to understand the differences. The checkpoint blockade approach particularly works on tumours created by environmental stressors like smoke or UV damage, but it often fails against cancers like prostate or pancreatic which are usually caused by a few specific mutations. These are called ‘cold’ tumours, because they’re harder to pick up. ‘Hot’ tumours are easier to target because they already have damage associated proteins coating them. Another immunotherapy approach involves killing off a few of these cold tumour cells – to release their content and attract immune cells towards them. This approach doesn’t work for very long, but researchers are looking for ways to improve it. Lowering the dose Treatments like radiation and chemotherapy can also be used to lower immunotherapy doses, and help prime the immune system too. They release triggering proteins by killing a few cancer cells, which then alerts some immune cells of the malignant presence. Lowering the dose helps improve safety, and prevent a dangerous overreaction. This combination approach could eventually become the gold standard of cancer treatment. Next generation immunotherapy The newest addition to the field is CAR-T cells, which are genetically engineered ‘super’ T cells specifically designed to target cancer. Clinical trails using these CAR-T cells have produced remission rates of 90% in a number of advanced blood and lymph cancer types. As the field evolves with advances like CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing and gene therapy improvements, efficiency could be improved even further. Read more at Scientific American