Immune drug could help cancer patients

Treating cancer patients with an immune-blocking drug could stop tumours recurring, a University study suggests.

The drug, which suppresses part of the immune system, would be offered at the same time as chemotherapy, researchers say.

The study found that chemotherapy can trigger wound-healing cells to cluster around blood vessels in tumours.

The cells - called M2 macrophages - repair tissue damage and build new blood vessels, a process that sometimes helps tumours to grow again after chemotherapy treatment.

Tumour regrowth

By treating mice with a drug that stops these cells from working, the team found the speed at which tumours grew back after chemotherapy was markedly reduced.

Clinical trials are needed to confirm if the drug - already used in patients for other reasons, such as bone marrow transplants - could help cancer patients after chemotherapy.

Regrowth of tumors after chemotherapy is a major problem for patients whose tumours cannot be removed by surgery. Although clinical trials in humans will be necessary to confirm our observations, this study suggests a novel approach to inhibit the reemergence of tumours following chemotherapy thus providing patient benefit.

Professor Jeffrey PollardDirector of the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Edinburgh

Immune system block

The study, published in the journal Cancer Research, was funded by Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

We don’t understand all the reasons why tumours do come back, but this study sheds new light on the role of the immune system in causing tumours to grow again and, importantly, identifies a drug that could block this happening if given at the same time as chemotherapy.

Dr Áine McCarthyCancer Research UK

The research was carried out in collaboration with scientists at the University of Sheffield, the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the University of Ottawa, and the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.