Huge discovery: the immune system can be taught to fight cancer

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An innovative type of immunotherapy against cancer developed at the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai trains the innate immune system to help eliminate tumor cells by using nanobiology – tiny materials developed from natural molecules.

This one nanobiological immunotherapy it targets the bone marrow, where part of the immune system is formed, and activates a process called trained immunity.

How do you program your immune system to fight cancer?

This process reprograms bone marrow progenitor cells to produce “trained” innate immune cells that stop the growth of cancer, which is normally able to protect itself from the immune system with other cell types, called immunosuppressive cells.

This paper demonstrates for the first time that trained immunity can be successfully and safely induced for the treatment of cancer. The research was performed on animal models, including a mouse model with melanoma, and the researchers said it was developed for clinical testing.

Immunotherapies that are already part of standard cancer care, such as the drug that removed metastatic melanoma from former President Jimmy Carter, are also able to expose the cancer to the immune system, but have limitations.

The type of immunotherapy used for former President Carter, called a checkpoint inhibitor, is fully effective only for a small number of patients and can have severe side effects.

The results of this research show that the immune approach to nanobiological immunotherapy could be used as an independent anticancer therapy, with fewer side effects, or in combination with drugs that inhibit checkpoints, scientists say.

“Not only have we observed very strong anticancer effects of our nanobiological immunotherapy, but the work involves the development and paraclinical evaluation of a new immunotherapy based on highly biocompatible nanomaterials,” said Willem J. Mulder, professor of molecular and interventional radiology.

“Our study represents significant progress for both trained immunity and cancer treatment, with real potential for rapid use in patients,” he added.

The research was part of an extensive collaboration between the Icahn School of Medicine and several institutes and universities in the United States and Europe.

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