Cancer immunotherapies harness the power of our immune systems to fight cancer – unleashing the immune system’s ability to recognise and eliminate cancer cells anywhere in the body.
Because immunotherapy can ‘train’ the immune system to remember cancer cells, this may result in longer-lasting remissions. Immunotherapy can work on many different types of cancer and offers the possibility for long-term cancer treatment.
There is a cresting wave of immunotherapy treatments and research happening right now. In 2018, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to two researchers for their discoveries that led to treatments that activate the immune system to fight cancers.
Mater has a broad range of research projects in immunotherapy, and nine current clinical trials in cancers including ovarian, kidney, lung and other solid tumours.
Teaching the immune system to fight cancers
Associate Professor Kristen Radford and her team of researchers at Mater Research are working towards creating an ‘anti-tumour vaccine’ which would enable the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells and eliminate them from the body. This anti-tumour vaccine approach is considered a ‘therapeutic vaccine’ as it aims to treat cancer, rather than prevent it. It is a next-generation vaccination strategy, and would offer practical, affordable treatment for prostate cancer patients.
The vaccine developed uses a specific type of immune cell, called a dendritic cell, to ‘talk’ to the rest of the immune system and direct the response against the person’s cancer cells. Associate Professor Radford has identified the critical type of dendritic cell that drives immune responses against cancer, and is using antibodies that will bind to those dendritic cells specifically to educate the immune system to attack cancer.
But there is still a lot of work to be done to bring the full of promise of immunotherapies to bear. Results vary from patient to patient, and not every patient responds to the current treatments available.
Some of the current challenges of immunotherapies research are:
- Determining who will respond to current treatments.
- Determining the response they will have, and if it can be improved.
- Understanding whether we can increase the number of patients who will respond to these treatments.
Mater is playing a key role in overcoming such challenges, by developing better models to show how the immune system reacts to cancer; investigating novel combinations of drugs to find the best treatments; and exploring biomarkers to determine who will respond to immunotherapies treatments.
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