Cancer Research UK scientists have shown that a class of experimental drug treatments already in clinical trials could also help the body’s immune system to fight cancer, according to a study published in the journal Cell.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh revealed that a protein called Focal Adhesion Kinase, or FAK-which is often overproduced in tumors-enables cancer cells to elude attacks by the immune system.
FAK usually sends signals to help healthy cells to grow and move around.
But the researchers discovered it plays a different role in cancer cells, changing the nature of the immune system so that it protects the cancer cells rather than destroying them.
They then showed that using an experimental FAK inhibitor prevented this change in the immune system, which allowed the cancer cells to be treated as a threat.
This is the first time that FAK inhibitors have been shown to influence the immune system and particularly whether or not it recognizes and fights cancer. This provides an unexpected potential new use for existing FAK inhibitor drugs.
The research, which was done in mice with a form of skin cancer, showed that tumors completely disappeared when the mice were given FAK inhibitors.
“This promising research suggests these drugs may be able to help the immune system to destroy cancer cells,” said Nell Barrie, senior science communications manager at Cancer Research UK. “Research to maximize the power of the immune system is a really exciting area that Cancer Research UK scientists are exploring in detail. This particular approach hasn’t yet been tested in people, but there are plans to now find out how it could benefit patients alongside other immunotherapy treatments.”
This article was adapted from information provided by Cancer Research UK.