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Immune-based Therapy Shows Potential Against Pancreatic Cancer in Mouse Models

Jul 05, 2016 04:57 PM EDT
Immune-Based Therapy in Mice Shows Promise against Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic tumors are surrounded by a protective "nest" made of fibrotic scar tissue and the cells that manufacture it (red). A new study in mice demonstrates that disrupting this fibrous tissue makes immune therapy and chemotherapy more effective in attacking tumors of the pancreas. Based on the study's findings, doctors at Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital are conducting a phase 1 clinical trial in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer that will test the safety of this drug combination when given along with standard chemotherapy.
(Photo : DeNardo Lab)

A new experimental study on mouse models revealed that immune-based therapy can be effective against pancreatic cancer if given together with a certain type of drug to break down the fibrous tissues of the tumor cells.

At present, immunotherapy has been commonly used to treat other types of cancer, including lung cancer and melanoma. However, tumor in the pancreas remained to be impervious against the immune-based therapy.

"Pancreatic tumors are notoriously unresponsive to both conventional chemotherapy and newer forms of immunotherapeutics," explained David G. DeNardo, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine and senior author of the study, in a statement. "We suspect that the fibrous environment of the tumor that is typical of pancreatic cancer may be responsible for the poor response to immune therapies that have been effective in other types of cancer."

DeNardo and his team the hypothesized that blocking the proteins helping the fibrous tissue to adhere to itself and surrounding cells might lessen the protection of tumors in the pancreas against immunotherapy and chemotherapy.

For the study, researchers combined focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitors with clinically approved immunotherapy. FAK inhibitors are capable of blocking the pathways of proteins involved in the formation of fibrous tissue.

Researchers then discovered that mice with pancreatic cancer that were given with FAK inhibitors in conjunction with immunotherapy improved the tumor response and increase the survival rate. Additionally, researchers found out that combining FAK inhibitors, immunotherapy and chemotherapy increased the survival rate of the mouse models up to three times without evidence of progressing disease.

According to a press release, researcher noted that using the three-pronged approach is very advantageous because the pancreatic cancer is being attacked in multiple ways. The FAK inhibitors breaks up the fibers of the tumor microenvironment, which in turn allows the immune cells and chemotherapy drugs to attack the tumor.

The result of the study was published in the journal Nature Medicine. Researchers are setting to test the safety and efficacy of the new combination approach in patients with advanced pancreatic tumors.

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