For all the success of a new generation of immunotherapies for cancer, they often leave an entire branch of the immune system’s disease-fighting forces untapped. Such therapies act on the adaptive immune system, the ranks of specialized cells that mount precision attacks on foreign and diseased cells. The other arm of the immune system, known as innate immunity, may not be merely idle during this battle, but may actually abet tumor growth.
In a new study in the journal Nature, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists report that a compound able to reverse the allegiance of innate immune system cells – turning them from tumor enablers into tumor opponents – caused breast tumors in mice to shrink and withdraw from distant metastases. When combined with chemotherapy or another immunotherapy, the new compound significantly extended the period of tumor remission.
The findings suggest a way to bring the full repertoire of the immune system to bear on cancer in humans, the authors said.
“Most current forms of cancer immunotherapy influence the behavior of T cells – white blood cells that are part of the adaptive immune system – by ‘teaching’ them to attack tumor cells or removing impediments to such an attack,” said the study’s lead author Jennifer Guerriero, PhD, of Dana-Farber. “This strategy has been effective against several types of cancer, but generally only a subset of patients benefit. We wanted to see if harnessing both arms of the immune system could produce superior results.”
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