Gene therapy that makes tumours targets of the immune system
Certain cancers, particularly those in the brain, are known for being immunologically speaking, 'cold'. That is, they're largely devoid of immune cells because the tumours create an immune-suppressing environment to avoid being detected and destroyed. Boosting a patient’s immune system may help, but could lead to complications such as fevers, rashes, loss of appetite, muscle pain and more. Researchers are therefore investigating ways to increase the immunological heat specifically at the tumour. One approach is to inject tumours with an immune-stimulating gene that's only switched on when a patient swallows a pill. This drug-controlled gene therapy ensures immune activity is maximised at the tumour, minimised elsewhere and can be easily stopped if unpleasant symptoms arise. Such therapy has been trialled in patients with brain cancer where it turned cold tumours (like the one on the left) into relative furnaces, packing them with fiery immune cells (highlighted in multiple colours, right).
Written by Ruth Williams
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.