The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that there are over 650,000 cancer patients receiving chemotherapy in the U.S.A every year. Chemotherapy drugs lower the body’s white blood cell count and block cell growth and replication, which stops the cancer cells from growing. Chemotherapy patients, however, become more prone to infections and illnesses with a lower immune system. The obvious next step in chemotherapy drugs would be to create some that make the immune system fight the cancer cells as well. A new study published in Cell describes a class of experimental drugs that are being put through clinical trials, that will do exactly just that.
UK researchers found that a protein normally involved in healthy cell growth and its spread, called Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK), tends to be overproduced in tumors, which helps the cancer cells to avoid detection by the immune system. An effect of this is that rather than the immune system working to seek out and destroy cancer cells, it protects the cancer cells. In their research, the team found that the experimental drug acts as a FAK inhibitor, preventing the protein from camouflaging the cancer cells, which then lets the immune system attack the cancer cells effectively killing them.
The research was tested on mice with squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. But the researchers believe the drugs would work on other forms of cancer as well. “FAK is hijacked by cancer cells to protect them from the immune system,” lead author Dr. Alan Serrels said in a press release. “This exciting research reveals that by blocking FAK, we’ve now found a promising new way to help the immune system recognize the cancer and fight it.”
Another recent study looking to improve immunotherapy found that adding aspirin to the treatment could lead to more positive outcomes. Using COX inhibitors, a group of chemicals that aspirin falls under, researchers were able to help stop the production of prostaglandin E2 , which is produced by skin, breast, and bowel cancer cells. These same inhibitors triggered the immune system into action and got it to fight the cancer cells.
Source: Serrels, A, et al. Nuclear FAK controls chemokine transcription, Tregs and evasion of anti-tumor immunity. Cell. 2015.