JUN 24, 2017 12:10 PM PDT

Scientists Identify New Targets for Lung Cancer Immunotherapy

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Our immune system has an extraordinary capacity to fight pathogens and protect the body. Indeed, some immune cells can fend off even cancer cells. Now, a recent study found that high levels of an immune T-cell can predict better outcomes for patients with lung cancer. The results could lead to immunotherapies that would enhance this body’s attack on cancer.

Image credit: Pixabay.com

Lung cancer kills more Americans than any other type of cancer. In 2016, over 224,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer. The disease does not discriminate between males and females, striking both sexes with equal voracity. About 70 percent of those diagnosed with lung cancer will succumb to the disease. This high mortality is contributed, in large, because the cancer is often detected at an advanced stage when treatment is not as effective.

In search of better treatment options for lung cancer patients, researchers at the University of Southampton and La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology, California, turned to the immune system. When the researchers analyzed levels of immune cells in lung cancer patients, they found a striking pattern. Specifically, patients with high levels of immune cells, called tissue-resident memory T-cells, were 34 percent less likely to succumb to the cancer.

The team explored the link further, and asked how presence of these immune cells affected lung cancer growth. They found that these cells had active cancer-fighting behavior. In particular, these memory T-cells ‘took up residency’ in cancer growths and conferred protection to the body. They also triggered the production of other immune cells and molecules to help the body attack the cancer cells.

Researchers say the findings could usher in a new generation of immunotherapy-driven treatments for lung cancer patients. In particular, synthetic version of the specialized T-cells could help boost a patient's’ own immune response against the lung cancer. Or, for those who have low levels of these T-cells, the synthetic form would give their immune system a fighting chance. In addition, doctors could tailor specific therapies to patients based on the levels of their immune T-cells.

"These are hugely exciting results. For the first time we have a real indication of who might benefit from a particular drug before we make treatment decisions. So far when we use immunotherapy we do not know if a patient will benefit. The new findings are a big step towards making this exciting treatment much more predictable,” said Professor Christian Ottensmeier, Cancer Research UK scientist at the University of Southampton, and the study’s senior author.

"Our results will also make the treatment pathway more reassuring for our patients. And if we can translate our finding into clinical practice, then we will also save patients unnecessary side effects and reduce costs to the NHS."

"The immune system can play a powerful role in fighting lung cancer, and this research sheds more light on the interplay between cancer, our immune system, and immunotherapies,” said Justine Alford, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK. “...research like this is crucial to understanding why some people with lung cancer respond well to treatment and, in future, could guide more personalized treatments for patients."

Additional source: Cancer Research UK

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JUN 06, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
JUN 06, 2018
New Role for Protein Complex Provides Insight Into Cancer Development
Researchers found that RSC plays an important role in chromosome distribution....
JUN 16, 2018
Cancer
JUN 16, 2018
Lung Cancer Rates Increasing in White and Hispanic Young Women
Lung cancer has long been tied to smoking and had a higher incidence in men than women. A new study shows rates of lung cancer are increasing in some groups of young women....
SEP 06, 2018
Microbiology
SEP 06, 2018
The Oncomicrobiome - Linking Microbes and Cancer
Scientists want to know more about how the microbes we carry in and on us are related to cancer development....
SEP 11, 2018
Cannabis Sciences
SEP 11, 2018
The Potential Anti-cancer Effects of Cannabinoids
They're known for helping to reduce the impact of cancer drug side effects, but it's possible that cannabinoids themselves are cancer fighters....
SEP 15, 2018
Cancer
SEP 15, 2018
Undescended testicles could lead to testicular cancer and infertility in adult males
An undescended testis (cryptorchidism) is a condition in which one of the testes or both have not descended into the right position in the scrotum at birth and either stay at the abdomen or d...
OCT 05, 2018
Cancer
OCT 05, 2018
FDA approves a new drug for an advanced type of skin cancer
As cancer is one of the most challenging diseases in our world, many efforts have been put into researching new ways for treatment to find new drugs that could help more patients worldwide. A...
Loading Comments...