Breakthrough in Cancer Treatment Could Dramatically Improve Survival Rate

Supplemental oxygenation may shrink tumors and enhance cancer immunotherapy.

Supplemental oxygenation may shrink tumors and enhance cancer immunotherapy.

A breakthrough in the treatment of cancer may hold the key to attacking tumors and improving survival.

In a study published recently in Science Translational Medicine, researchers discovered that supplemental oxygenation inhibits the accumulation of adenosine in the tumor microenvironment, which weakens immunosuppression. As a result, the therapy could enhance cancer immunotherapy and shrink tumors through anti-tumor T lymphocytes and natural killer cells.

"This discovery shifts the paradigm of decades-long drug development, a process with a low success rate," Michail Sitkovsky, an immunophysiology expert at Northeastern University, said in a press release. "Indeed, it is promising that our method could be implemented relatively quickly by testing in clinical trials the effects of oxygenation in combination with different types of already existing immunotherapies of cancer."

Sitkovsky's prior research noted that the A2A adenosine receptor located on the surface of immune cells controls the prevention of T cells from invading tumors and shuts down the killer cells that are able to gain entry into tumors. The current study revealed that inhaling 40 to 60% oxygen weakens tumor-protecting signaling through the A2A adenosine receptor, which activated T cells with the ability to invade lung tumors.

"Breathing supplemental oxygen opens up the gates of the tumor fortress and wakes up 'sleepy' anti-tumor cells, enabling these soldiers to enter the fortress and destroy it," Sitkovsy said. "However, anti-tumor immune cells are not present, oxygen will have no impact."

The researchers also found that the effects of supplemental oxygenation may be improved in combination with a synthetic agent dubbed "super-caffeine.” The agent has the capability to block the tumor-protecting effects of the adenosine receptor.

The researchers are currently working to to design a next generation of the drug originally developed for the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

"The anti-tumor effects of supplemental oxygen can be further improved by the natural antagonist of the A2A adenosine receptor, which happens to be the caffeine in your coffee," Sitkovsky said. "People drink coffee because caffeine prevents the A2A adenosine receptor in the brain from putting us to sleep."