New Research in Immunotherapy

In recent years, cancer treatment research has focused on immunotherapy – specifically, how to mobilise the immune system to attack cancer cells. The difficulty is identifying how cancer cells manage to disarm the T-cell fighters of the immune system in the first place, and then developing drugs to restore those damaged T-cells.

Patients with incurable cancers such as advanced melanoma have shown long-term responses to checkpoint inhibitor drugs, but they only work for around sixty percent of patients. This means cancer cells still have other ways of disabling the body’s immune system that are not remedied through the use of checkpoint inhibitors.

The US National Cancer Institute undertook research to learn what other methods cancer cells use to attack the immune system. Researchers grew human melanoma cells and gradually disabled each gene in the tumour cells using the CRISPR gene-editing technique.

They then tested the ability of the immune system’s T-cells to recognise each gene, and found that around 100 different genes activated by the cancer could prevent the attack by the T-cells.

The APLNR gene has been previously implicated as contributing to some cancers and indeed played a role in disarming the T-cells in this research.

As the study continues, researchers are hopeful it may lead to the development of new immunotherapy treatments.



Patel et al. (7 August 2017) Identification of essential genes for cancer immunotherapy. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature23477

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