In order to prevent the immune system from attacking the wrong cells, checkpoint proteins send the system’s warrior T cells into “sleep mode”. Unfortunately, cancerous tumors have been able to use these proteins to prevent the the immune system from attacking them. But now, researchers have found a way to awaken the sleeping T cells.
Nathan Seppa, Biomedical Writer, ScienceNews:
New drugs that disable these checkpoint proteins are showing a keen ability to awaken T cells and, in so doing, pull away cancer’s veil. In the last year, studies testing a handful of these drugs have demonstrated eye-opening results against melanoma — the deadly kind of skin cancer — and tangible gains against other malignancies.
Clinical trials reported in late 2014 suggested a high upside for checkpoint drugs in patients who had run out of options against melanoma and cancers of the kidney, bladder and lung (SN: 12/27/14, p. 8). And new studies presented at two recent cancer meetings have fed the optimism with promising results against those cancers and others. Some of the first trials combining two checkpoint stoppers in patients have yielded impressive results. And although the dual-dose approach causes some side effects, it is unclear whether these are worse than the downsides of chemotherapy.
Early data from the following studies suggest that 20 to 35 percent of cancer patients might benefit from overriding the checkpoints:
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