SAN ANTONIO (April 16, 2012) Cancer is much more likely in the elderly than the young, and their bodies often are less prepared to fight the disease and the often-toxic side effects of treatment.
But a new study from the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio shows that some types of immunotherapy previously thought to work only in younger patients can be used to help the elderly, with less toxic effects than many common therapies, if combined in ways that account for age-related changes in the immune system.
"We've shown that immunotherapy for cancer not only works in aged mice, but actually can work better in aged hosts than in young counterparts by capitalizing on the immune changes that happen with age," said Tyler Curiel, M.D., MPH, a professor in the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center and principal investigator of the study, published April 15 in Cancer Research.
As you age, most parts of your body begin to wear out. They keep doing what they're made to do, Dr. Curiel said, but over time, they don't do it as well. The general perception is that the immune system also simply declines with age. "That's really too simplistic," he said. "That's really not the full picture of what's happening."
The body's immune system does weaken with age, but it also changes, and that changes the rules for fighting disease within the body. Dr. Curiel's group started by examining an immune therapy that they previously had shown to work in younger hosts, including cancer patients. It's designed to eliminate regulatory T cells (called Tregs), which are cells that turn off immune responses, allowing cancer to progress. Tregs increase in cancer. In young hosts, the drug turns off Treg activity, allowing the immune system to function better. In older hosts, even though the drug turns off the Tregs, it has no clinical benefit.
Dr. Curiel asked the question
|Contact: Elizabeth Allen|
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio