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GENETICALLY “supercharging” immune cells, and combining this with a new wonder drug, offers a new way to boost the body’s cancer defences, Melbourne researchers have found.
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre researchers hope the new treatment combination, tested successfully in animals, will eventually allow cancer patients to be immunised against relapses.
The team combined the anti-PD-1 drug – which blocks the body’s natural instinct to limit an immune response – with T-cells removed, genetically reprogrammed to better recognise cancer, and re-implanted, so they can then continue fighting cancerous cells without the response being “switched off’.
This treatment eradicated tumours in a third of mice with sarcoma, and saw a significant reduction in the growth of tumours in mice with breast cancer.
Associate Professor Phil Darcy, who led the research with Associate Professor Michael Kershaw and Dr Liza John, said the anti-PD-1 drug and the engineered cells were both effective treatments in their own right, but each was limited in the types of cancer they could treat.
Prof Darcy said it was only by combining the two treatments that the immune system’s attack on the cancer could be sustained.
“Either treatment alone didn’t clear any of the tumours; it was only the combination that worked,” he said.
“Like an infection, where your body responds effectively if you’re infected with a virus again, we hope to replicate this in the cancer setting.
“You want to form a memory response, so the T-cells persist for a lifetime in the patient to respond if the cancer comes back.”
The research team, which published their findings in the journal Clinical Cancer Research , aim to replicate their results in animal tests with other solid tumours including prostate, melanoma and colorectal.
Human clinical trials are expected to begin within three years.