Certain cancers, particularly those in the brain, are known for being immunologically speaking, ‘cold’. That is, they’re largely devoid of immune cells because the tumours create an immune-suppressing environment to avoid being detected and destroyed. Boosting a patient’s immune system may help, but could lead to complications such as fevers, rashes, loss of appetite, muscle pain and more. Researchers are therefore investigating ways to increase the immunological heat specifically at the tumour. One approach is to inject tumours with an immune-stimulating gene that’s only switched on when a patient swallows a pill. This drug-controlled gene therapy ensures immune activity is maximised at the tumour, minimised elsewhere and can be easily stopped if unpleasant symptoms arise. Such therapy has been trialled in patients with brain cancer where it turned cold tumours (like the one on the left) into relative furnaces, packing them with fiery immune cells (highlighted in multiple colours, right).
Written by Ruth Williams
- Image from work by E.A. Chiocca et al., Science Translational Medicine (2019)
- Department of Neurosurgery, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
- Image copyright held by the original authors
- Research published in Science Translational Medicine, August 2019