The human immune system is poised to spring into action at the first sign of a foreign invader, but it often fails to eliminate tumors that arise from the body’s own cells. Cancer biologists hope to harness that untapped power using an approach known as cancer immunotherapy. Orchestrating a successful immune attack against tumors has proven difficult so far, but a new study from MIT suggests that such therapies could be improved by simultaneously activating both arms of the immune system. Until now, most researchers have focused on one of two strategies: attacking tumors with antibodies, which activate the innate immune system, or stimulating T cells, which form the backbone of the adaptive immune system. By combining these approaches, the MIT team was able to halt the growth of a very aggressive form of melanoma in mice. “An anti-tumor antibody can improve adoptive T-cell therapy to a surprising extent,” says Dr. Dane Wittrup, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT. “These two different parts of the immune therapy are interdependent and synergistic.” Dr. Wittrup, an associate director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and also a faculty member in the Department of Biological Engineering, is the senior author of a paper describing the work in the April 13, 2015 issue of the journal Cancer Cell. The article is titled “Synergistic Innate and Adaptive Immune Response to Combination Immunotherapy with Anti-Tumor Antigen Antibodies and Extended Serum Half-Life IL-2.” Lead authors are graduate students Eric Zhu and Cary Opel and recent Ph.D. recipient Dr. Shuning Gai.
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