The idea of using the body's immune system to kill cancerous cells is already routinely deployed. Our immune system contains killer white blood cells called cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs), which single out and destroy tumours. But the body's natural response to cancerous cells is often not strong enough to wipe out the tumour.
The new therapy, called TrimAb (triple monoclonal antibody) therapy, may solve that problem. Mark Smyth, at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Australia, Kazuyoshi Takeda, at the Juntendo University School of Medicine in Japan, and colleagues used a cocktail of three different antibodies.
The first attacks the tumour directly, by stimulating the receptor for a death-inducing protein on tumour cells, called TRAIL. The boost that strengthens the response comes from the other two antibodies which activate killer T-cells that pitch in to kill the tumour.
TrimAb cleared large breast tumours in 80% of the mice that received the treatment, while the tumour disappeared in less than 30% of mice that got either single antibodies or double antibody combinations. And furthermore, the therapy induced a complete cure in 60% of the mice in which the breast cancer had spread to the lungs, liver, and brain.
As John Schloendorn was quoted in yesterday's post, "I think immune therapy is the most promising anti-cancer approach we have." We certainly need something that's a leap and a jump ahead of present widely available cancer therapy technologies - radiation and drugs that harm you just a touch less than they harm the cancer. Cancer in mice is significantly different to cancer in humans, however; mice are more vulnerable to cancer in general, for example. It's worth getting excited when a promising therapy successfully makes the jump from mouse models to human trials, but many past examples have not.
For my money, cancer is number two - after neurodegenerative conditions - on the list of complex, hard to handle age-related conditions that must be successfully tackled by medical science in the near term. Stepping stone advances in healthy life extension technologies will not be too helpful if they simply allow you to suffer and die from ever more cancer and neurodegeneration.