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Injecting Immune Stimulants Turns Tumors Into “cancer Vaccine Factories”

Scientists have come up with a new way to enhance the body’s immune system in its fight against cancer(Credit: vitanovski/Depositphotos)

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Scientists at New York’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have made an exciting breakthrough in the realm of cancer treatment, describing a new way of supercharging the body’s immune system so that it can take the upper hand and destroy tumor cells around the body.

The technique falls under an arm of cancer treatment known as immunotherapy. In essence, this means equipping the body’s natural defenses with some extra weaponry so they can better take the fight to cancer. There are a few ways to go about this, including harvesting the immune system’s T cells and engineering them to more effectively recognize the predatory cancer cells, known as adoptive immunotherapy, or treating T cells with drugs to disable proteins that would otherwise neutralize their attacks, known as checkpoint blockade immunotherapy.

In what they describe as a novel approach, the researchers at Mount Sinai tried to quell cancerous cells by injecting carefully chosen immune stimulants directly into the tumor site. One of these stimulants recruits immune cells called dendritic cells, which take on the role of general of the immune system army, while another instructs those dendritic cells to command the T cells to kill off the cancer cells.

These work together to train the immune system to better recognize a tumor cell when it sees one, and take a more active role in hunting them down throughout the body and killing them off. The researchers describe this as “in situ vaccination” and say that it effectively turns a tumor into a cancer vaccine factory.

It was first tested in the lab on mice where it greatly improved the effectiveness of checkpoint blockade immunotherapy. The team then tested it on 11 patients with advanced stage lymphoma as part of a clinical trial, where some experienced full remission for periods ranging from months to years.

Buoyed by these promising results, the researchers have already kicked off clinical trials for lymphoma, breast, head and neck cancer patients, and lab tests are continuing on liver and ovarian cancer. The team says that combining this in situ vaccine technique with checkpoint blockage immunotherapy is at least three times as powerful as either on their own, and they are “extremely optimistic” about the new trials.

“The in situ vaccine approach has broad implications for multiple types of cancer,” says lead author Joshua Brody. “This method could also increase the success of other immunotherapies such as checkpoint blockade.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Medicine.


New Therapy Transforms Tumors Into “Cancer Vaccine Factories”

Trained to Kill

By injecting immune stimulants directly into cancerous tumors, researchers from Mount Sinai say they’ve transformed the growths into “cancer vaccine factories” that produce cancer-killing immune cells — and their approach was so successful in fighting one type of cancer that they’re already testing it on two others.

The treatment starts with the injection of two immune stimulants directly into a tumor. The first stimulant recruits immune cells called dendritic cells, while the second activates the dendritic cells, prompting them to instruct the immune system’s T cells to kill cancer cells while leaving non-cancer cells unharmed.

Once trained in this way, the immune system’s cells can venture out to other parts of the body, killing tumor cells wherever they encounter them.

Factory of Life

According to the team’s study, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine on Monday, the researchers already tested the therapy on 11 patients with advanced stage lymphoma in a clinical trial. Afterwards, some of those patients experienced full remission for months or even years.

This success has led to two additional clinical trials, this time in patients with either breast or head and neck cancer.

“The in situ vaccine approach has broad implications for multiple types of cancer,” researcher Joshua Brody said in a press release. “This method could also increase the success of other immunotherapies such as checkpoint blockade.”

READ MORE: Mount Sinai Researchers Develop Treatment That Turns Tumors Into Cancer Vaccine Factories [Mount Sinai]

More on cancer: Chinese Doctors Are Using Modified T-Cells to Treat Advanced Forms of Cancer


New Kind Of Cancer ‘Vaccine’ Teaches The Immune System To Destroy Tumours

Researchers have invented a new type of cancer immunotherapy by injecting tumours with a series of stimulants. The experimental therapy attracts the body’s own immune system’s attention, so it can come and destroy the cancerous masses.

The radical new approach has already shown promise in patients with an advanced form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that resists conventional treatments, and is currently being tested on a variety of stubborn cancers.

The result can be described as turning the tumours into “cancer vaccine factories”, because attracting the body’s immune cells to the cancer site is a method known as in situ vaccination.

Researchers at Mount Sinai in New York developed the immunisation technique in their efforts to understand why the promise of recruiting cell-killing T-cells in attacking cancers is such a hit and miss affair.

On paper, employing white blood cells to assassinate rogue tissue such as cancer makes perfect sense. Simply ‘prime’ them with the chemical equivalent of a mug-shot, and off they go in search of their target.

In practice, getting a T-cell to recognise cancer isn’t a simple affair.

For one thing, tumours use a crafty set of disguises called checkpoint blockades. These are signatures on the cell’s membrane that tells the immune system it’s just a regular old cell just minding its own business so please move on thank you very much.

Checkpoint blockade immunotherapy inhibits these signatures to let the T-cells do their job. But again, not all cancers make this easy. An incurable type of blood cancer called an indolent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (iNHL) is one example.

By most accounts it should be a great candidate for T-cell therapy. Unfortunately T-cells have a hard time recognising this particular blood cancer.

To get to the bottom of the issue, the Mount Sinai researchers looked at how immune cells can be primed to recognise iNHL easily in the lab, while demanding a more involved process known as cross-presentation inside the body.

The difference suggested T-cells just needed a helping hand. Cross-presentation requires an intermediate primer called a dendritic cell to present specific cell markers to toxic T-cells. Luckily it can be summoned with the right kinds of stimulants.

One stimulant is needed to call the dendritic cells to the tumour. A second stimulant puts the cells into action, encouraging them to present chemical signals called antigens on their surface – like Wanted! posters that tell other parts of the immune system what to look for.

Injected into a tumour with some localised radiotherapy to stir things up, these two stimulants can potentially turn a cancerous growth into a recruiting agency for its own killers.

The therapy was put to the test in a clinical trial made up of 11 patients in advanced stages of iNHL, where it induced both anti-tumour T-cell responses and varying degrees of remission far from the ‘vaccination‘ site.

Not only is this good news for lymphoma patients, the success should in theory be applicable to other cancers.

“The in situ vaccine approach has broad implications for multiple types of cancer,” says Joshua Brody, Director of the Lymphoma Immunotherapy Program at Mount Sinai.

“This method could also increase the success of other immunotherapies such as checkpoint blockade.”

Additionally, mice became responsive to checkpoint blockade therapy when it was combined with the vaccine, although this part is yet to be tested in humans. In fact, the combination doubled cancer remission in mice from 40 percent to around 80 percent.

This impressive combo potential is currently being clinically evaluated in patients with lymphoma, breast, and head and neck cancer. Meanwhile, tests involving the vaccine on its own are being conducted on individuals with liver and ovarian cancer.

There’s a long way to go before we can add this tool to the arsenal of treatments already in place for dealing with cancer.

But with all signs looking good, we can look forward to a new treatment for a slow growing but deadly disease currently considered to be incurable.

Time will tell if it ultimately helps extend lifetimes by a considerable degree. If it’s one thing we know about cancer, it rarely makes our job killing it so easy.

This research was published in Nature Medicine.

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