Immunotherapy: success against skin cancer

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Immunotherapy: success against skin cancer

Vaccination prevented the return of the tumors in two clinical trials

Vaccination against the tumor: Researchers have succeeded in combating advanced skin cancer by Immuntherapie – according to a similar principle as in a vaccination. Patients were given a vaccination cocktail, which focused their immunodeficiency on specific characteristics of the cancer cells. As a result, the body’s immune system could fight the cancer cells and prevent a return of the tumors, as the researchers report in the journal Nature.

To defeat the cancer by hitting one’s own immune system on the tumors – this is one of the goals of modern cancer medicine. Because cancer cells have been very effective against the body’s immune system, including special messengers, fast mutation and camouflaged surface proteins. As a result, the immune response does not react or is only inhibited and the tumors can thus grow.

Medical professionals are therefore looking for ways to break this immune blockade. This can be achieved, for example, if the defense cells are caused to recognize certain characteristics of the cancer cells and then to specifically detect and destroy them in the body, similar to a protective vaccination.

The problem: The potential points of attack in the cancer cells are different for each patient and each type of cancer. In addition, different cell types occur within one tumor and new mutations can occur. Accordingly, it is difficult to identify the characteristics of the cancer cells which are suitable as “red cloths” for cancer vaccination.

However, two research groups have now made promising advances in immunotherapy against black skin cancer. Both have been successful in phase I clinical trials to prevent the recurrence of cancer in patients with advanced melanoma.
Patrick Ott from the Dana-Farber Institute in Boston and his colleagues first produced a genetic profile of the tumor cells for each of their six patients and compared this with the genetic make-up of healthy body cells. On the basis of the results, they selected 20 peptides, which occurred only on the surface of the cancer cells and were suitable as a potential attack target. The patients were then injected several times during the course of just four weeks.

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