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Battling pancreatic cancer with immune therapy

By Tim Sandle     Jul 6, 2016 in Science
An immune therapy technique has recorded success against pancreatic cancer, according to a new research study. This is a further sign of progress using the immunological technique.
Pancreatic cancer is very hard to treat. Although the emerging science of immune therapy has recorded successes against certain types of cancer (such as lung cancer), the method has not shown any success against tumors of the pancreas — until now.
The breakthrough is based on studies using mice, and here and inhibitor in conjunction with immune therapy (or ‘immunotherapy’) has, when used with combination drugs, succeeded in breaking down tumor material. Immunotherapy "wakes up" a patient’s own immune system so it can fight cancer. Treatment uses substances either made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function.
In a research note, the lead scientist, Dr. David G. DeNardo, stated: “Pancreatic tumors are notoriously unresponsive to both conventional chemotherapy and newer forms of immunotherapeutics.” This is attributed to the fibrous material than encases the tumor (which is due to a type of protein called focal adhesion kinases.) This protects the cancerous cells from therapeutic drugs. The new immunotherapy method breaks down this protective, connective tissue.
The immunotherapy treatment blocks the pathways involved in forming the tissue. This leads to a reduction in fibrosis, leaving the tumor exposed to attack from chemical drug products.
The immunotherapy uses focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitors. In the mouse study, the researchers used the inhibitor in combination with an immune therapy which activates the human body’s T cells and leads to tumor cells becoming vulnerable to attack.
The mice in the study survived for much longer when given a combination of the inhibitors, immune therapy and chemotherapy. The combination is, however, not a cure; but it does appear to extend life.
Based on the success using the animal model, the research team are preparing a phase 1 clinical trial using human patients who are suffering from pancreatic cancer. The immune therapy will be administered alongside existing chemotherapy.
The news has proved popular with the scientific community, with positive messages from The Olympian Empire (@OlympianEmpire) and BioinfoPapers (@bioinfo_papers).
The research was performed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The research findings are published in the journal Nature Medicine. The paper is titled “Targeting focal adhesion kinase renders pancreatic cancers responsive to checkpoint immunotherapy.”
More about Pancreatic cancer, immune therapy, Immunotherapy, Cancer
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