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Mechanism offers promising new approach for harnessing the immune system to fight cancer
Date:8/4/2013

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists have discovered a way to target the immune system to shrink or eliminate tumors in mice without causing autoimmune problems. Researchers also found evidence that the same mechanism may operate in humans. The study was published today in the advance online edition of Nature.

The findings provide a new target for ongoing efforts to develop immunotherapies to harness the immune system to fight cancer and other diseases.

The work focused on white blood cells called regulatory T cells. These specialized cells serve as the immune system's police force, working to control inflammation and guard against autoimmune and inflammatory disease. Regulatory T cells can, however, interfere with the immune system's ability to fight cancer.

In this study, investigators identified a mechanism that boosts the ability of regulatory T cells to cause problems by blocking an effective anti-tumor immune response. The same process, however, plays no role in maintaining immune balance or preventing the misguided immune attack on healthy tissue that leads to autoimmune problems, researchers reported. Blocking this mechanism led to the elimination or dramatic reduction of melanoma by the immune system in mice, without causing the autoimmune and inflammatory problems often associated with current cancer-treatment efforts that target immune regulators, scientists said.

"Regulatory T cells are a major barrier to effective anti-tumor immunity," said the study's corresponding author, Dario Vignali, Ph.D., vice chair of the St. Jude Department of Immunology. "We have identified a mechanism that enhances the ability of regulatory T cells to put the brakes on the immune response in tumors but plays no role in immune system maintenance. For the first time, we may now have an opportunity to selectively target the activity of regulatory T cells for treatment of cancer without inducing autoimmune or inflammator
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Contact: Summer Freeman
summer.freeman@stjude.org
901-595-3061
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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