Chemo and Radiotherapy can be effective treatments for cancer. The downside, of course, is a range of difficult side effects experienced during treatments. Fortunately, a type of treatment that aims to harness the immune system to combat cancer (called immunotherapy) could completely change the way cancer is treated in the future.
What is it?
A new injection was giving hugely promising results early last year (2018) as a revolutionary new cure for cancer. The immunotherapy developed by Dr. Levy and his team at Standford comes in the form of a small injection containing two tiny agents which could potentially save lives in the long run.
It’s good news for cancer patients, as early last year some very promising trials of immunotherapy were conducted on a group of mice. The mice were found in 87 out of 90 cases to be cured of lymphoma following the injection.
The remaining 3 were then given a second dosage, which then also cured them of the disease. Similar results were found when tested on mice subjects for skin, breast and colon cancer.
The impressive thing about this injection is that it seems to have systemic effects (whole body effects). Not only did the tumors that were directly treated disappear, but so did ones found elsewhere in the body.
This systemic effect can be attributed to the injections ability to activate the immune system and to give it the ability to specifically target certain types of cancer.
Ronald Levy MD, professor of oncology and senior author of the report, explains; “Our approach uses a one-time application of very small amounts of two agents to stimulate the immune cells only within the tumor itself.”
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The treatment is likely less pain-inducing than either chemo or radiotherapy and offers the potential of bodywide healing, over local treatment. It would also be lower in price compared to other treatments as it only requires a small dosage of two agents and (an agonistic anti-OX40 antibody and CpG oligonucleotide) – the two pair up and works as a tag team to cure the infected areas.
Levy reported that should its efficacy be confirmed following trials tested on humans, it would likely be used post-surgery to reduce the risk of a recurrence of cancer cells.
The two agents essentially increase the body’s capacity to produce T-cells, which in turn are able to eradicate the cancer cells. They are initially injected into the tumor of the mice itself, and once gone, the remaining cells are somewhat like antibodies, which seek out any other cells that may have been affected.
First trials on humans
Following these initial trials, Dr. Levy began testing his injection on human participants. His findings were published in Cancer Discovery in August 2018. In this initial trial, for the 29 subjects with Lymphoma tested, the treated tumor shrank in 26 of cases, 1 of which disappeared entirely.
Following the tests upon the mice, these results were a little disappointing compared to the across the board healing of the animal specimens.
It looks like it is back to the drawing board for Dr. Levy and his team.
However, these results are still rather encouraging, and as Christopher Melani, M.D., of NCI’s Center for Cancer Research stated, “the degree of responses seen with this combination of the vaccine and radiation was much higher than would be expected by either spontaneous remission or focal radiation therapy [alone].”
Dr. Levy is confident in immunotherapy as a potential cure for cancer in the future; “I don’t think there’s a limit to the type of tumor we could potentially treat, as long as it has been infiltrated by the immune system.”
This is very promising news. As Levy and his team continue their already impressive efforts, hope is still alive for the development of immunology as a potential cure for cancer.
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