Making the most of lymphopenia

A study undertaken by investigators at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) suggests a new, potentially more effective way to battle cancerhit the immune system with cancer vaccines or cancer cells when it's down and it will bounce back swinging harder than ever against those cancer cells.

The technique involves administering an injection of fresh immune cells to replace the ones that die immediately after chemotherapy or irradiation. An injection of cancer cells at the same time serves as a form of "immunotherapy," which induces a person's immune system to attack existing colonies of those cancer cells. In the technique, the fresh immune cells immediately begin to multiply and, because they see the cancer cells, they are rapidly activated to kill them.

"The treatment has utility on the basis of its simplicity," says TSRI immunology Professor Argyrios N. Theofilopoulos, M.D., who led the study.

Theofilopoulos's study, which is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, suggests that immunotherapy should be initiated immediately after chemotherapy or irradiation because the reduction in the body's T cells is actually an advantage.

"If you have only a small number of T cells," says Theofilopoulos, "It is very likely that, during their subsequent expansion, you will develop a strong T cell response [to the cancer]."

For years, the main treatment for various sorts of cancers has been systemic chemotherapeuticsdrugs that have a cytotoxic effect on rapidly dividing cancer cellsor irradiation, the use of x-rays or some other sort of ionizing radiation that is also lethal to cancer cells. However, they both cause collateral damage, killing non-cancerous cells as well. Like innocent bystanders, T cells and other cells of the immune system are killed along with the tumor cells during chemotherapy and irradiationa state referred to as "lymphopenia."

Immunotherapy is another approach to cancer therap

Contact: Robin B. Clark
Scripps Research Institute

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