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A 'Pacman strategy' to boost the immune system to fight cancer
Date:4/12/2011

A molecule that lies dormant until it encounters a cancer cell, then suddenly activates and rouses the body's immune system to fight cancer cells directly, marks the latest step in scientists' efforts to tap the body's own resources to fight the disease.

The developers of the technology at the University of Rochester Medical Center dub it the "Pacman strategy" because it hinges upon molecular machines produced in abundance by tumors to chew through and gobble up particular chains of molecules.

The key feature of the work is a new type of fusion molecule with three parts: a potent immune cell activator; a second molecule to keep that molecule quiescent until it's needed; and a link between the two that gives scientists control over how the two interact.

The overall fusion molecule acts like a tiny anti-cancer grenade: The portion designed to arouse the immune system to attack cancer is inactive until it's freed, an act that occurs when the link between it and its inhibitory counterpart is cleaved by specialized tumor proteins that chew up such molecules.

The work, led by graduate student John Puskas and Professor John Frelinger, Ph.D., was published online recently in the journal Immunology. Puskas, who is defending his doctoral thesis today, is first author of the paper.

In its experiments the team used Interleukin-2 or IL-2, a cytokine or chemical messenger that amplifies the effects of the immune system. IL-2 has been central to the burgeoning field known as cancer immunotherapy; it turns on T cells and natural killer cells that recognize and kill cancer cells. It's approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of melanoma and kidney cancer, but it can have serious side effects, limiting its use in patients dramatically. That's largely because it can harm healthy tissue when it's active throughout the body.

"One reason we chose IL-2 is that it's approved and used to treat pati
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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