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New type of immunotherapy may better treat melanoma, according to UCLA-led study

Researchers at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center may have discovered a safer immunotherapy treatment for melanoma, a skin cancer. The treatment uses NKTR-214 instead of the potentially harmful interleukin-2, which scientists hope will be more effective in treating cancer. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Emily MacInnis

Feb. 2, 2020 11:24 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 3 at 10:29 a.m.

A new form of immunotherapy may be effective in combating skin cancer, according to a UCLA-led study.

Researchers from the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center found that using NKTR-214, an immunotherapy drug, in combination with anti-tumor immune cells, may induce a strong immune response that will better fight advanced melanoma, a severe form of skin cancer. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications on Jan. 31.

Immunotherapy is a form of disease treatment that involves activating or suppressing a person’s immune responses. In cancer treatment, the goal is to activate a patient’s immune system to attack and stop the spread of cancer cells, according to the National Cancer Institute.

One form of cancer treatment using immunotherapy modifies a patient’s immune system cells, called T cells, to target antigens specific to tumors. Antigens are substances on the surface of foreign cells that cause the body’s immune system to fight the foreign cells. Cancer cells multiply too quickly for the immune system to destroy them normally, which is why a patient’s T cells must be modified, according to the American Cancer Society.

This process of immunotherapy is traditionally completed by using the molecule interleukin-2. However, interleukin-2 may harm the patient, as it is toxic and may also suppress the immune system.

The researchers tested the effects of using NKTR-214 instead of interleukin-2 in mice with melanoma tumors. They used bioluminescence imaging, a technology that measures the light emitted by reactions to track movement at a molecular level and track the locations of anti-tumor immune cells inside the mice, according to the study.

They found significant growth of T cells in the mice’s spleens, which accelerated the proliferation of T cells within the body. After this, the T cells moved to attack the tumors. This approach was found to increase the number and lifetime of T cells in the mice’s bodies when compared to adoptive cell therapy using interleukin-2. Boosting the cells’ quantity and lifetime allowed the cells to better attack the tumor, the study found.

Current forms of immunotherapy are found to be effective only in a small portion of the population. The researchers believe using NKTR-214 as a substitute for interleukin-2 could make adoptive cell therapy effective for more cancer patients, according to the press release.

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