Research Attacks Cancer's Shields'

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Drs. Wei-Ping Min and James Koropatnick are going to war against cancer. And taking a page from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, they just may have the strategy for a new cancer vaccine, allowing more troops to attack the deadly disease.

Strong immune systems can recognize and destroy cancer cells. But some of these cancer cells can turn on certain genes to hide from the body’s immune system. One such immune suppressive molecule is indoleamine 2,3-deoxygenase (IDO), which acts as a defence for the cancer.

“We want to knock down their defence,” said Koropatnick, a Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry student and director of the Cancer Research Laboratory Program at the London Regional Cancer Program. “It’s like a shield they hide behind so the immune system can’t see them and can’t kill them. You knock the shield out of their hands and they become more vulnerable.”

At the same time, the immune system’s T-cells need to be informed about what tumour cells they need to attack. Dendritic cells command T-cells, and those directions become muddied so long as IDO is present. Problem is, dendritic cells produce IDO.

“If you can stop cancer cells from making IDO, knocking the shields out of their hand, and if you can tell the dendritic cells to stop making IDO, they’ll shout more loudly to the immune system as to exactly what it is about the cancer cells they need to recognize and kill. So we’re trying to get rid of IDO,” Koropatnick said.

U.S.-based Bio-Matrix Science Group Inc., a biotechnology research and development company headquartered in San Diego, Calif., entered into a Letter of Intent to purchases the intellectual property behind the ‘gene-silencing’ process. That organization will assist the team in obtaining funding to get this vaccine into clinical trials (expected to cost $10-15 million), with a focus on breast cancer.

Min, a Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor, said this approach may destroy tumours in a non-toxic manner through leveraging the body’s own immune system to recognize the cancer as ‘foreign’ and subsequently eradicating it.

“For more than a decade, our laboratory’s focus has been to identify how to use gene-silencing in the context of immunology. We believe this novel approach in treating breast cancer will greatly enhance outcomes for patients,” Min said. “We believe that our approach is capable at competing both at the cost, and efficacy level.”

Min also just recently received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant for $313,349 over three years to further the research.

Since 1980, cancer survival rates among those under the age of 73 have increased 25-50 per cent. But there have been no noticeable improvements for older adults.

“The goal here is to be able to live with whatever cancer you have; you may not be cured of it, but you can live a full and productive life - with the normal aches and pains you have with age, and die of something else, like old age,” Koropatnick said. “The fear of cancer is death and we can’t cure death. It’s the war on cancer, and it never ends.”

Story by: Paul Mayne, Western News, Western University

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