Patients' immune system may influence effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy

April 2, 2017, University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
T cell
Scanning electron micrograph of human T lymphocyte or T cell. Credit: NIAID/NIH

Higher or lower levels of certain immune cells in cancer patients may be associated with how well they respond to immunotherapy, according to preliminary results of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI).

The findings will be presented today at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., by Robert Ferris, M.D., Ph.D., UPMC Endowed Professor, chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery, and co-leader of the Cancer Immunology Program at UPCI.

The research was an extension of the recently completed CheckMate 141 Phase III clinical trial co-chaired by Dr. Ferris, which showed that the nivolumab significantly increases survival and causes fewer adverse side effects in patients with recurrent head and neck cancer.

However, the treatment was not equally effective in all the patients so Dr. Ferris and his team aimed to find out whether differences in the patients' immune system profiles could be associated with better response to immunotherapy.

The researchers found that higher levels of tumor-associated (TAICs) expressing the PD-L1 protein were associated with longer overall survival and greater likelihood of response to the drug nivolumab. TAICs are immune that have infiltrated the tumor and are thought to play an important role in tumor growth.

In blood samples taken prior to the start of immunotherapy, the researchers also found that patients with of circulating CD8, or cytotoxic, T cells—also known as killer T cells—and lower levels of regulatory T cells were associated with better response to treatment.

"Our study shows that immune cells in the microenvironment around the tumor could play a critical role in how patients respond to immunotherapy. By determining the nature of these cells and how they are affected by treatments, we may be able to significantly improve the effectiveness of current therapies and help a greater number of ," said Dr. Ferris.

Explore further: Immunotherapy prolongs life, reduces side effects and improves quality of life

More information: This study was funded by UPCI and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Related Stories

Immunotherapy prolongs life, reduces side effects and improves quality of life

October 11, 2016
The immunotherapy nivolumab significantly increases survival and causes fewer adverse side-effects in patients with recurrent head and neck cancer, according to a randomized trial co-led by investigators at the University ...

Researchers use new computational method to define immune cell interactions

March 15, 2017
Immunotherapy, harnessing a patient's immune system to help fight cancer, has shown much promise as a potential cancer treatment. In a newly published study, a research team at Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Norris Cotton Cancer Center ...

Immunotherapy improves survival, quality of life in rapidly progressing head and neck cancer

June 6, 2016
Immunotherapy doubles overall survival and improves quality of life, with fewer side effects, in a treatment-resistant and rapidly progressing form of head and neck carcinoma, reports a large, randomized international trial ...

Cancers evade immunotherapy by 'discarding the evidence' of tumor-specific mutations

January 5, 2017
Results of an initial study of tumors from patients with lung cancer or head and neck cancer suggest that the widespread acquired resistance to immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors may be due to the elimination ...

Immunotherapy drug gives non-small-cell lung cancer patients extra four months of life

December 13, 2016
Patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer survive four months longer with fewer side effects on an immunotherapy drug called atezolizumab compared to chemotherapy, according to a phase 3 clinical trial published in ...

'Starving' immune cell discovery points to cancer immunotherapy-boosting strategies

July 29, 2016
The microenvironment that supports a cancerous tumor also starves the immune cells that the body sends in to destroy the cancer, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) scientists revealed in a discovery that holds ...

Recommended for you

Study tracks evolutionary transition to destructive cancer

February 23, 2018
Evolution describes how all living forms cope with challenges in their environment, as they struggle to persevere against formidable odds. Mutation and selective pressure—cornerstones of Darwin's theory—are the means ...

Researchers use a molecular Trojan horse to deliver chemotherapeutic drug to cancer cells

February 23, 2018
A research team at the University of California, Riverside has discovered a way for chemotherapy drug paclitaxel to target migrating, or circulating, cancer cells, which are responsible for the development of tumor metastases.

Lab-grown 'mini tumours' could personalise cancer treatment

February 23, 2018
Testing cancer drugs on miniature replicas of a patient's tumour could help doctors tailor treatment, according to new research.

An under-the-radar immune cell shows potential in fight against cancer

February 23, 2018
One of the rarest of immune cells, unknown to scientists a decade ago, might prove to be a potent weapon in stopping cancer from spreading in the body, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

Putting black skin cancer to sleep—for good

February 22, 2018
An international research team has succeeded in stopping the growth of malignant melanoma by reactivating a protective mechanism that prevents tumor cells from dividing. The team used chemical agents to block the enzymes ...

Cancer risk associated with key epigenetic changes occurring through normal aging process

February 22, 2018
Some scientists have hypothesized that tumor-promoting changes in cells during cancer development—particularly an epigenetic change involving DNA methylation—arise from rogue cells escaping a natural cell deterioration ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.