Revolutionary cancer treatment wakes up immune system to destroy tumors

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A revolutionary cancer treatment is combining several therapies to successfully destroy tumors, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say. Their breakthrough treatment “jump starts” a patient’s natural defenses by merging chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and tumor-fighting techniques.

Using this novel approach, researchers say diseased cells are removed from the body, treated with drugs, and then placed back in the tumor. They are delivered with a payload of medications that activate the immune system’s T cells. The injured cancer cells appear to act as a distress signal that spurs them into action.

“When you create cells that have DNA damage but are not killed, under certain conditions those live, injured cells can send a signal that awakens the immune system,” says senior author Professor Michael Yaffe in a university release.

An effective cancer treatment for many types
Immunotherapy – which stimulates the immune system to kill tumors – only works for a handful of cancers. The new method could enable it to be used against many forms of the disease.

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In experiments, it completely eliminated tumors, melanomas, and breast cancers in 40 percent of treated mice. When the same rodents were injected with cancer cells months later, T cells recognized and destroyed them before new tumors could form.

The MIT team improved the performance of immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint blockade inhibitors. They take the brakes off of T cells that have become “exhausted” and unable to attack tumors. Adding chemotherapy drugs helped injured cells send signals that attract the immune system’s attention.


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