Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to cure or even treat. Fortunately, a new approach developed by scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine has successfully made pancreatic tumors visible to mice and vulnerable to immune attack, reducing cancer metastases by 87 percent. This study is based on data from Science Translational Medicine.
Today''s checkpoint inhibitor drugs work well against some types of cancer, but only rarely assist individuals with pancreatic cancer, according to Helen Gravekamp, the coauthor of the paper and an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Einstein, and a member of the National Cancer Institute. The problem is that pancreatic tumors aren''t sufficiently foreign to attract the immune system attention and can often suppress whatever immune responses occur. Basically, our new therapy makes immunologically cold tumors hot enough for the immune
Leveraging the Tetanus Vaccine
The Dr. Gravekamp family''s treatment strategy enables people to obtain a powerful and specific immune response against pancreatic cancer cells thanks to the use of tetanus toxin. This technique allows individuals to develop a strong immune response when they get exposed to the highly foreign tetanus toxin.
Investigators injected the bacteria with the same tetanus vaccination to people who had previously used the mouse models of pancreatic cancer (i.e., mice with human pancreatic tumors) and combined the gene that codes for tetanus toxin into non-disease-causingListeria monocytogenesbacteria. Finally, they injected the bacteria with their tetanus-gene cargoes into previously vaccinated, tumor-bearing
Exploiting Cancers Immune Suppression
The tetanus-toxin genes formed the tetanus-toxin protein inside the tumor cells, resulting in a strong immune response. The tetanus toxin activated pre-existing CD4 T cells, causing the cells to become larger and sick. The T cells response increased by an average of 80 percent, and increased the number of metastases by 87% in the treated animals.
According to Dr. Gravekamp, this therapy technique might be useful in pancreatic cancer as well as other types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer, which is still difficult to treat.