Modulating the Immune Response to Fight Cancer

Why are some patients with cancer unresponsive to immunotherapies?

Investigators recently discovered a specific cell population in tumors that prevent a strong immune response in treating cancer.

Through a collaborative effort, investigators analyzed more than 100 patient samples obtained from ovarian cancer, and other cancer types, to identify a distinct population of cells that reside in some tumors.

The results of the study, published in Nature Medicine, showed that the cell population suppresses the growth of cancer-fighting immune cells, limiting the body’s immune response to fight off the disease.

“We’ve uncovered a potential new approach to modulate the immune response to cancer,” said principal investigator Dr Pamela Ohashi. “By looking at tumor biology from this different perspective, we’ll have a better understanding of the barriers that prevent a strong immune response. This can help advance drug development to target these barriers.”

Dr Ohashi is hopeful that the findings will eventually lead to new combination treatments that simultaneously target and kill the suppressive cells, while augmenting an immune response against the cancer.

“This would really strengthen the way clinicians can treat cancer using immune therapy, which holds so much promise for patients,” Dr Ohashi said.

The investigators plan to focus on finding a biomarker that can identify the distinct suppressive cell in other areas of the body as a potential predictive clinical tool to determine when the cells are present in patients.

“That knowledge will guide clinical decisions to personalize cancer treatment to unleash an individual’s immune response,” Dr Ohashi said. “We need to identify ways to track these cells and find another source and ways to grow these cells for further study.”