MIT researchers develop new cancer treatment

MIT researchers have now discovered a new way to jump-start the immune system to attack tumours, which they hope could allow immunotherapy to be used against more types of cancer.

This involves removing tumour cells from the body, treating them with chemotherapy drugs, and then placing them back in the tumour. When delivered along with drugs that activate T cells, these injured cancer cells appear to act as a distress signal that spurs the T cells into action.

“When you create cells that have DNA damage but are not killed, under certain conditions those live, injured cells can send a signal that awakens the immune system,” says Michael Yaffe, a David H. Koch Professor of Science, the director of the MIT Centre for Precision Cancer Medicine, and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

Drugs currently used for cancer immunotherapy is checkpoint blockade inhibitors, which take the brakes off of T cells that have become “exhausted” and unable to attack tumours. These drugs have shown success in treating a few types of cancer but do not work against many others.

Yaffe and his colleagues set out to try to improve the performance of these drugs by combining them with cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs, in hopes that the chemotherapy could help stimulate the immune system to kill tumour cells.

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