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Stanford University School of Medicine

Successful immunotherapy requires a body-wide response, say Stanford researchers

27125551111_09d5b37fa4_kHarnessing a patient's immune system to tackle tumors seems like a no-brainer. Why wouldn't we avail ourselves of such a natural, already-in-the-trenches, weapon? And much recent research points to the potential effectiveness of this approach, known as cancer immunotherapy.

But until now, researchers and clinicians weren't sure whether it was more important to mobilize immune cells to migrate into the tumor, or to work to develop a sustained immune response throughout the body. Now researchers Edgar Engleman, MD, PhD, and Garry Nolan, PhD, together with Matthew Spitzer, PhD, Yaron Carmi, PhD, and Nathan Reticker-Flynn, PhD, have shown that it's critical for the immune system to work in concert throughout the body to effectively reject a tumor. They published their work today in Cell.

As Engleman described in our release:

Immunotherapy can be remarkably effective against cancer, but we don't know why some patients respond and some don't. We don't understand the parameters that determine efficacy. In this study, we analyzed millions of living cells simultaneously for 40 parameters from multiple tissues throughout the body to show that you need a systemwide immune response to effectively attack and eradicate a tumor.

Blocking this systemwide response eliminated the ability of laboratory mice to reject transplanted human breast cancers after treatment with a previously successful immunotherapy, the researchers found. The researchers also identified a specific population of CD4 T cells associated with tumor rejection that could potentially be used to monitor a therapy's effectiveness with a simple blood test.

As Engleman explained in our release:

The idea would be to use the rise of these CD4 T cells as a biomarker to tailor treatment to each individual... Physicians could learn quickly whether a therapy is working, or if it should be abandoned in favor of a new approach.

Previously: Researchers prime immune system's T cells with foreign antibodies to target cancer cell, Exploring the promise and challenges of cancer immunotherapy and "We're feeling the ground shaking under our feet": Stanford oncologist talks cancer immunotherapy
Photo by Rita Elena Serda, Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health

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