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CRI Scientists Improve Immune Response to Cancer

CRI scientists discover how to improve immune response to cancer

Cancer Research Institute scientists and others at The Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research (CFIBCR) at Princess Margaret Hospital and international collaborators have discovered how to trigger an improved immune response to cancer that could be included in new clinical trials that use a patient’s own cells to destroy tumors.

The findings, published online today in Nature Medicine (DOI: 10.1038/nm.1953), demonstrate the tantalizing potential of immunotherapy in cancer treatment, says principal investigator Dr. Pamela Ohashi, co-director, CFIBCR.

In the lab study, the scientists combined interleukin-7 (IL-7) – a key component of the immune system – with a viral vaccine to improve the ability of the cells of the immune system to attack tumors. The result was clear: The combination boosted immunity to tumors.

The paper’s first author, Marc Pellegrini, MD, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow receiving support from the Irvington Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship Program of the Cancer Research Institute.

«We are extremely excited because our research has revealed the unexpected ways IL-7 works to break down barriers that naturally block the immune response to tumors. This is important because current vaccine approaches for immune therapy induce a response in just 1% to 3% of patients,» says Dr. Ohashi, a senior scientist in signaling biology who holds a Canada Research Chair in Autoimmunity and Tumor Immunity.

Dr. Tak Mak, co-author and CFIBCR director, says: «The promise of using the body’s own defenses to fight cancer is enormous. The day is coming when immunotherapy may help spare cancer patients the toxic side effects of traditional therapies and greatly improve their quality of life while treating the disease. This is why we are planning to expand our immunotherapy research program at PMH.» Dr. Mak and Dr. Ohashi are professors at the University of Toronto in the Department of Medical Biophysics and Immunology.

Dr. Mak is a member of the Cancer Research Institute Scientific Advisory Council, and has trained twelve CRI-funded fellows in his laboratory at the University of Toronto.

This research was also financially supported by grants and fellowships from the Canadian Institute for Health Research, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Terry Fox Foundation, the National Cancer Institute of Canada, the Boninchi Foundation (Geneva) and the Irvington Institute Fellowship Program of the Cancer Research Institute (New York).

Reference: Adjuvant IL-7 antagonizes multiple cellular and molecular inhibitory networks to enhance immunotherapies. Pellegrini M, Calzascia T, Elford AR, Shahinian A, Lin AE, Dissanayake D, Dhanji S, Nguyen LT, Gronski MA, Morre M, Assouline B, Lahl K, Sparwasser T, Ohashi PS, Mak TW. Nat Med. 2009 Apr 26.

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