PhotoA new approach to immunotherapy has the potential to provide an improved diagnostic tool for treating breast cancer and malignant melanoma.

In a study conducted at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, researchers were able to create a class of antibodies that are able to reprogram macrophage cells that are found in tumors. Reprogramming these cells allows a person’s immune system to better recognize tumor cells so that the body can kill them off and fight the disease.

This new approach has shown some promise in animal models, and researchers hope that it points to a possible way to combat the most dangerous diseases.

“We’ve found a new way of using antibodies for immunotherapy that activates immune cells, called macrophages, in the tumour. . . This makes it easier for the immune system to recognize the tumour and animal studies of three different cancers have given promising results,” said researcher Mikael Karlsson.

Boosting the immune system

Most consumers may recognize immunotherapy as the therapy that allowed Jimmy Carter to beat cancer. It works by pumping up a person’s immune system so that it can combat harmful tumor cells; this is different from other forms of therapies that seek to attack the tumors themselves.

For the purposes of this study, the researchers focused on macrophages – immune cells whose purpose is to fight infection. Macrophages that inhabit tumor cells don’t do much to fight the disease under normal circumstances – in fact, they can sometimes prevent other immune cells from doing their jobs.

However, the researchers were able to use a modified antibody to reprogram these macrophages so that they were able to stop the spread of tumors in mice models. They noted that these macrophages are also present in human breast cancer and malignant melanoma, so there is hope that this type of therapy could be used on people suffering from these diseases in the future.

“We now hope that this new therapy, which has so far been tested preclinically, will one day be used in combination with another immunotherapy to make it even more efficacious. . . We are also looking into whether the presence of this type of macrophage in human tumours can be used clinically for the diagnosis of cancer diseases,” said Karlsson.

The full study has been published in Cell Reports

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