Melbourne researchers think they have found a way to turn off the cells that prevent cancer patients’ immune systems from beating previously untreatable tumours.
March 12, 2009
The Women’s Cancer Foundation and Monash University in Melbourne have just begun an 18-month trial using low dosage chemotherapy pills. They say it could save hundreds-of-thousands of lives each year.
Professor Michael Quinn from Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital says the new method involves using the patient’s own immune system, and less toxic cancer treatments.
“What we’re hoping is that by using this particular method of synchronising the patient’s own immune system, that we’ll be able to get better responses, more women living longer, and very importantly reduce the toxicity of any treatment,” he said.
He says while scientists have long known the body mounts an immune response to cancer, they did not know why this response was ineffective.
“What we’ve been able to show in the last four, five years is that there are other cells within the body that are inhibiting this normal immune response, and importantly that these cells are actually cycling every eight to 12 days, so we have our own rhythm of immunity,” he said.
“It’s that observation, that we can interfere with that rhythm and get good results, that I think is very exciting.”
Professor Quinn says four out of five patients die within five years due to the barricade put up by the inhibiting cells.
“That’s the terrible statistic around ovarian cancer. So this is a really bad cancer and it’s one that we’ve got to do something about,” he said.
“And this I think is a novel approach. It’s got good science attached to it and let’s hope that translates to the bedside.”
Professor Quinn is involved in a trial beginning this week, which will look at ovarian cancer patients who have had two treatments with chemotherapy but still suffered a recurrence.
The researchers will take blood samples from the women every second day for two weeks, so they can get a good picture of the cycles of each woman’s immune system.
The scientists will then use the information to determine when each woman should orally take an extremely low dose of chemotherapy which will kill the inhibitory cells.
Professor Quinn says if the trial is successful it could be used to treat other types of cancer.
“Any solid tumour, bowel cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer. So any of these non-blood cancers,” he said.