New research points suggests that DNA sequences from tumor cells can also be used to direct the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells, according to scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who published their findings in the journal Nature on February 8th.
The immune system relies on certain parameters to decide whether to attack or not. The new results suggest that scientists might be able to combine DNA sequencing data with triggers and targets that will allow the body’s immune alarms to more precisely develop vaccines and other immunotherapies to fight cancer.
Specific targets for immunotherapy are technically challenging, extremely labor-intensive, and can take often more than a year to complete, states Robert Schreiber, a pathologist at the School of Medicine and co-leader of the immunology program at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital. The methods provided by DNA sequencing will allow personalized immunotherapies to be developed a lot faster.
This would allow the body to fight cancer on its own or with the help of vaccines or immunotherapeutic treatments. Schreiber and his colleagues have shown that the interactions between the immune system and cancer are complex. The theory is called immunoediting and it suggests that the mutations in tumor cells are easy for the immune system to recognize as threats. Once detected, the immune system will attack until they are destroyed.
At that point, the cancer is either eliminated or edited by the immune system, resulting in the removal of the cells containing easily recognized mutations. The remaining tumor cells will either continue to grow or enter a period of dormancy, where they are held in check by the immune system.
The lab experiments involve mice and the idea is to make a vaccine that will help the immune system recognize and attack the mutated proteins in cancer.