A new way to activate the immune system against cancers was discovered by MIT researchers

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have now discovered a new way to jump-start the immune system to attack tumors. It’s about removing tumor cells from the body, treating them with chemotherapy drugs, and then placing them back in the tumor. This spurs the T cells into action. Yaffe and Darrell Irvine are the senior authors of the study. Their approach is based on a phenomenon known as immunogenic cell death, in which dead or dying tumor cells send signals that attract the immune system’s attention.”When you create cells that have DNA damage but are not killed, under certain conditions those live, injured cells can send a signal that awakens the immune system,” says Michael Yaffe, who is a David H. Koch Professor of Science, the director of the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine, and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

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Surprisingly, the scientists determined that most of the chemotherapy drugs didn’t help very much and those that did help appeared to work best at low doses that didn’t kill many cells. So, “this describes a new concept of immunogenic cell injury rather than immunogenic cell death for cancer treatment,” Yaffe says. In studies of mice with melanoma and breast tumors, the researchers showed that this treatment eliminated tumors completely in 40 percent of the mice. Yaffe hopes to test this approach in patients whose tumors have not responded to immunotherapy. More studies are needed to perfectly understand how to kill cancers this way.