"When we use these two agents together, we see the elimination of tumors all over the body," Dr. Ronald Levy, professor of oncology, said. "This approach bypasses the need to identify tumor-specific immune targets and doesn't require wholesale activation of the immune system or customization of a patient's immune cells."
The researchers published their findings this week in the academic journal Science Translational Medicine, claiming to have "developed a practical strategy for immunotherapy of cancer." Tested in some 90 mice, the technique eliminated cancer in 87. Immunoenhancing agents were injected directly into the rodents' tumors, triggering a local T-cell immune response and going on to attack cancer throughout the entire body.
Levy and his colleagues believe the local application of very small amounts of the agents could serve as a rapid and even relatively inexpensive cancer therapy. They also think it is unlikely to cause the adverse side effects often seen with bodywide immune stimulation.
"This is a very targeted approach," Levy said. "Only the tumor that shares the protein targets displayed by the treated site is affected. We're attacking specific targets without having to identify exactly what proteins the T-cells are recognizing." Seen as a leader in the field of cancer immunotherapy, through which doctors attempt to use the immune system to attack cancer, Levy's research previously led to the development of rituximab, a groundbreaking anticancer treatment for humans.
"All of these immunotherapy advances are changing medical practice," Levy explained.
Levy said the procedure in his new experiment "uses a one-time application of very small amounts of two agents to stimulate the immune cells only within the tumor itself."
"In the mice, we saw amazing, bodywide effects, including the elimination of tumors all over the animal," he said.
Different from other available treatments, this technique foregoes the need to infiltrate an animal's entire immune system or use samples from its body, according to the New York Daily News. Some existing cancer therapies, such as T-cell treatment used to combat lymphoma and leukemia, remove a patient's immune cells from the body and then genetically alter them to fight cancerous cells before being reintroduced into the body.
That method is not only costly, it also involves a long treatment process, not to mention rough side effects. Levy's newly developed method would be much simpler, if it works in humans.
The Stanford team is now looking for about 15 people with lymphoma to test the vaccine in a clinical trial, according to Newsweek. Optimistic about the possibilities, Levy said that he believes a wide variety of cancers could be treated in a similar way.
"I don't think there's a limit to the type of tumor we could potentially treat, as long as it has been infiltrated by the immune system," he said.