Skin cancer is a treatable condition and immunotherapies can be very effective. But even our novel medicine can be improved. A team of researchers led by the University of Birmingham found that skin cancer patients may have better prognosis if their immune system is empowered. T cells just need to send messages from five specific genes to immunotherapy drugs.
T cells are qhite blood cells that kill pathogens and cancer cells and explore the body's environment using their T cell receptor (TCR). That receptor basically controls T cells behaviour when hunting pathogens and empowers it to kick-start the immune response to avoid the disease. Naturally, this process is very important in vaccine research, but it is also at play in cancer immunotherapy. Now researchers explored how the amount of antigen controls how the TCR sends messages to the command centre of T cells. Sometimes brakes are pressed on T cells to prevent the immune system from attacking the body's own cells. These immune brakes (PD1) are targeted by immunotherapy to allow T cells to kill tumour cells.
Scientists found that the amount of antigen determined the ability of T cells to send messages to their command centre. This increased the number of brakes. By disabling one of such brakes, the PD1, researchers were able to re-awaken some of these ‘unresponsive’ T cells. This made those messages from five specific genes louder and clearer and activated the immune response.
Dr David Bending, lead author of the study, explained: “By looking for the messages from these five genes, we were able to show that these stronger and louder messages were increased in melanoma patients who survived for longer on drugs that block the immune brake PD1. We think that this means that those cancer patients whose immune cells can send messages from these five genes in response to drugs that target PD1, a good outcome is far more likely”.
Our immune system is very complex and this is just a small part of it. The amount of antigen, the number of immune brakes, T cell activity and messaging between different parts of the system are all very important factors, determining how aggressive the immune response towards cancer is going to be. Scientists hope that this study will allow them to develop new drugs targeting PD1 and improve the accuracy of novel immunotherapies. The end result should be more recoveries and longer, healthier lives for survivors. Immunotherapy can also cause less severe side effects, which is a tremendous improvement for those living with cancer.
Source: University of Birmingham