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UCLA researchers discover drug to boost immune response to cancer

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A significant factor in cancer growth is the fact that the immune system does not recognize the cells as harmful; thus, much cancer research is focused on enhancing the immune response to cancer cells. Scientists at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have discovered a drug that promotes an immune-based treatment for cancer. The findings were published in the April edition of the Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer.

The research was led by Dr. Robert Prins, associate professor of neurosurgery and molecular and medical pharmacology and Dominique Lisiero, a PhD student in the Prins laboratory. They noted that the immunotherapy uses the transplantation of T cells, which are a type of white blood cell that is of key importance to the immune system, in a process known as T cell adoptive transfer. The T cells are trained to specifically attack cancer cells transplanted into animals. The new drug is a histone deacetylase inhibitor. The investigators discovered that, in a mouse model, it enhanced the activity of the T cells and of the immune system’s inflammatory response in mice; thus, providing a tumor-shrinking effect.

The investigators found that panobinostat caused the transferred T cells to multiply faster, survive longer, and reject the established cancer more efficiently. Dr. Prinn explained, “The stage is now set for the drug to move forward into clinical trials where it has potential to enhance adoptive T cell transfer and dendritic cell vaccine immunotherapy, both of which are already being used in cancer patients.”

UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center comprises more than 240 researchers and clinicians engaged in disease research, prevention, detection, control, treatment and education. The center notes that it is one of the nation’s largest comprehensive cancer centers, and is dedicated to promoting research and translating basic science into leading-edge clinical studies. In July 2013, the Jonsson Cancer Center was named among the top 12 cancer centers nationwide by U.S. News & World Report; furthermore, it has held this ranking for 14 consecutive years. For more information on the Jonsson Cancer Center, click on this link.