An international team of scientists in Japan, Switzerland, and the United States has confirmed that combining chemotherapy and immunotherapy in cancer treatment enhances the immune system's ability to find and eliminate cancer cells, even when the cancer-associated proteins targeted by the immune system are hidden behind the cancer cell membrane. In a study published online on February 8, 2012 in Cancer Research, the scientists show that antibodies, which have been successful in treating certain types of cancers, can effectively reach elusive intracellular targets, delaying tumor growth and prolonging survival when combined with chemotherapy. "The study provides proof-of-principle for a powerful new strategy that may greatly expand the arsenal of potential targets for cancer drug development and that could be broadly applicable to many different cancer types," said Dr. Hiroyoshi Nishikawa, a Cancer Research Institute (CRI)-funded associate professor in the Department of Experimental Immunology at the Immunology Frontier Research Center, Osaka University, and a senior author on the Cancer Research paper. The introduction of antibodies against cancer represents one of the biggest successes of cancer therapy over the past 20 years. These treatments work by targeting markers on the surface of cancer cells, and include the blockbuster therapies Herceptin, which targets the HER2/neu marker on breast cancer cells, and Rituxan, which targets the CD20 marker on B cell lymphoma. The majority of markers that can distinguish cancer cells from normal cells, however, are found exclusively inside cancer cells, where antibodies typically cannot access them.
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