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.
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.