It has been years since there has been a significant breakthrough in the fight against lung cancer or mesothelioma. The cancers are still a death sentence for many patients, with the 10-year survival rate just five percent. However, scientists continue to spend countless hours in a quest to find an effective treatment for the aggressive cancers. Now, researchers report that by turning to the latest trend in research by targeting immune cells they may be one step closer to finding a cure for many types of cancer.
Ronald Levy, MD, professor of oncology, and Instructor of Medicine Idit Sagiv-Barfi, PhD, both of Stanford University School of Medicine, partnered up in research designed to activate T cells, or immune cells, in tumors. They injected two immune-stimulating agents into mouse models, according to a Jan. 31 press release from Stanford. What they found was that the drugs worked “startlingly well” and successfully eliminated “all traces of cancer” in the mice, including distant, untreated metastases.
“When we use these two agents together, we see the elimination of tumors all over the body,” said Dr. Levy. “This approach bypasses the need to identify tumor-specific immune targets and doesn’t require wholesale activation of the immune system or customization of a patient’s immune cells.”
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer typically affecting the lining of the lungs. Primarily caused by exposure to airborne asbestos fibers, most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed 30 years or more after exposure. Like many cancers, treating mesothelioma is challenging. However, recent successes with immunotherapyhave given mesothelioma patients significant improvements in their health.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to target and destroy cancer cells. The aim of immunotherapy is to harness the strength of the immune system in a specifically focused attack on cancer cells.
See the success Mavis Nye of England had with immunotherapy.
The Stanford pair wanted to build on these successes, but eliminate the major downsides of immunotherapy, such as life-threatening complications, extended preparation, and costly treatment, that the current immunotherapy treatments cause.
The Stanford researchers found that by injecting their compound directly into the tumor they can reactivate the T-cells to then “lead the charge” to kill the cancer cells. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that continuously roam around within our bodies, seeking out and destroying cancer cells and infections. In the case of mesothelioma, and many other aggressive cancers, the cancer cells avoid detection from the T-cells and the cancer thrives.
“All of these immunotherapy advances are changing medical practice,” Levy said. “Our approach uses a one-time application of very small amounts of two agents to stimulate the immune cells only within the tumor itself. In the mice, we saw amazing, bodywide effects, including the elimination of tumors all over the animal.”
In the study, the “dual immunotherapy” not only shrunk tumors that had metastasized but also led to long-term survival.
The agents used in the trial are currently in separate clinical trials, but the Stanford team hopes to combine them for “great benefit for cancer patients.”
Mesothelioma is diagnosed in close to 3,000 Americans each year with the same number dying from the disease. Research such as this is critical for bringing hope to the cancer community.
Find the results of the study in the Jan. 31 issue of Science Translational Medicine.