Prof. Erez Levanon of Bar-Ilan University..
(photo credit: BAR ILAN UNIVERSITY)
Research in immunotherapy identifies mechanism that helps fight lung cancer and melanoma
In a breakthrough discovery, scientists from Harvard Medical School along with a team at Bar-Ilan University have uncovered a mechanism in which the immune system is capable of attacking cancer cells. This contributes greatly to research in immunotherapy, particularly in fighting lung cancer and melanoma (skin cancer).
The research team was composed of Prof. Nick Hainin of Harvard Medical School and Prof. Erez Levanon of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University, along with doctoral student, Ilana Buchumansky and many others.
The study was published two weeks ago in the journal Nature, detailing how scientists have uncovered a mechanism that assists the cell by leaving markers on human virus-like genes thereby preventing them from being recognized as viruses. When this channel is inhibited, the immune system can be utilized to destroy cancerous cells, particularly in the cases of lung cancer and melanoma. The immune system reacts when this path is blocked or shut off, and allows the body to destroy cancer cells at a more effective rate.
Prof. Levanon said: "We found that if the mechanism is blocked, the immune system is much more sensitive. When the mechanism is deactivated, the immune system becomes much more aggressive against the tumor cells."
By ceasing the function of ADAR1 - an enzyme that edits or cuts RNA in tumor cells (in what is known as checkpoint blockade immunotherapy) - this helps the immune system to identify and attack tumors.
New medications that are able to block immune activity have been moderately successful in recent years. However, in only a minor number of patients has such treatment proved effective. This is due to mutations in human genes that weaken the release of antigens - Y-shaped proteins that are used by the immune system to fight viruses, such as these.
So far, many of these drugs are unable to push the immune system to attack the tumors, but research in this field is still ongoing.