NCI researchers develop new cancer immunotherapy directed against genetic mutations in tumors

May 12, 2014

A new method for using immunotherapy to specifically attack tumor cells that have mutations unique to a patient’s cancer has been developed by scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and they believe it could be effective against a wide range of cancers. The researchers demonstrated that the human immune system can mount a response against mutant proteins expressed by cancers that arise in epithelial cells which can line the internal and external surfaces (such as the skin) of the body. These cells give rise to many types of common cancers. The research provides evidence that this immune response can be harnessed for therapeutic benefit.

All malignant tumors harbor genetic alterations, some of which may lead to the production of mutant proteins that are capable of triggering an antitumor immune response. Prior research has shown that human melanoma tumors often contain mutation-reactive immune cells called tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs). The presence of these cells may help explain the effectiveness of adoptive cell therapy (ACT) and other forms of immunotherapy in treatment.

In ACT, a patient’s own TILs are collected, and those with the best antitumor activity are grown in the laboratory to produce large populations that are infused into the patient. Prior to this work, it had not been clear if the human immune system could mount an effective response against mutant proteins produced by epithelial cell cancers and whether such a response could be used to develop personalized immunotherapies. Study results indicate that a T-cell response against a mutant protein can be harnessed to mediate regression of a metastatic epithelial cell cancer. Read the study abstract.

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