Wednesday October 24, 2018

Research: Gene Linked to Hair Loss May Improve Cancer Treatment

Further, analysis of data from previous study of melanoma patients with disabled IKZF1 gene showed higher recurrence rates and worse survival

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New ML-tool uses DNA to predict height and cancer risk. Pixabay
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Scientists have found that a gene associated with autoimmune hair loss disorder may also help improve cancer immunotherapy — treatment that uses body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

The findings showed that a gene named IKZF1 recruits T cells in alopecia areata — a condition in which immune cells attack and destroy hair cells — that gets switched off during several types of cancer.

Switching off IKZF1 protects the tumour cells from the immune system. But activating this gene may expose the cancer cells to the immune system and help the immune cells to attack the invading cancer cells.

“We showed that a gene that recruits T cells in alopecia areata is turned off in various types of cancer, protecting them from the immune system. But if we turn that gene back on, we can make those cancers vulnerable to the immune response,” said Angela M. Christiano from Columbia University in New York City, US.

cancer
Representational image. Pixabay

For the study, published in the journal Cell Systems, the team examined mouse models with melanoma cancer, in which the tumours were genetically modified to express IKZF1.

The results showed that the gene helped the immune system infiltrate the tumours causing them to lose at least some ability to escape the immune system.

While prostate cancer could also be made more responsive to immunotherapy, colorectal and kidney tumours would not respond to immunotherapy if IKZF1 expression was increased, because the gene was found to be inactive in these tumours, the researchers found.

Also Read: More Than 1000 Gene Variants Linked to Educational Attainment Identified

Further, analysis of data from previous study of melanoma patients with disabled IKZF1 gene showed higher recurrence rates and worse survival.

“We should be able to identify genetic signals that are hyperactive in autoimmune disease, and then harness those signals in tumours that have developed a way to avoid the immune response,” the researchers said. (IANS)

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Immunotherapy Drugs Show Significant Improvement Against Breast Cancer: Study

Side effects need a close look, both doctors said. Nearly all study participants had typical chemo side effects such as nausea or low blood cell counts.

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Breast Cancer
This undated fluorescence-colored microscope image made available by the National Institutes of Health in September 2016 shows a culture of human breast cancer cells. For the first time, one of the new immunotherapy drugs has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease. VOA

For the first time, one of the new immunotherapy drugs has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease. But the benefit for most women was small, raising questions about whether the treatment is worth its high cost and side effects.

Results were discussed Saturday at a cancer conference in Munich and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Drugs called checkpoint inhibitors have transformed treatment of many types of cancer by removing a chemical brake that keeps the immune system from killing tumor cells. Their discovery recently earned scientists a Nobel Prize. Until now, though, they haven’t proved valuable against breast cancer.

Breast Cancer
Weight loss may lower breast cancer risk for post-menopausal women. Pixabay

In the study

The new study tested one from Roche called Tecentriq plus chemo versus chemo alone in 902 women with advanced triple-negative breast cancer. About 15 percent of cases are this type, their growth is not fueled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone, or the gene that Herceptin targets, making them hard to treat.

Women in the study who received Tecentriq plus chemo went two months longer on average without their cancer worsening compared with those on chemo alone, a modest benefit. The combo did not significantly improve survival in an early look before long-term follow-up is complete.

Failed protein test

Previous studies found that immunotherapies work best in patients with high levels of a protein that the drugs target, and the plan for the breast cancer study called for analyzing how women fared according to that factor if Tecentriq improved survival overall.

breast cancer
FILE – A patient receives chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer at the Antoine-Lacassagne Cancer Center in Nice, July 26, 2012. VOA

The drug failed that test, but researchers still looked at protein-level results and saw encouraging signs. Women with high levels who received the combo treatment lived roughly 25 months on average versus about 15 months for women given chemo alone.

That’s a big difference, but it will take more time to see if there’s a reliable way to predict benefit, said Dr. Jennifer Litton of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She had no role in running the study but enrolled some patients in it and oversees 14 others testing immunotherapies.

“We’re really hopeful that we can identify a group of women who can get a much bigger and longer response,” she said.

Another breast cancer specialist with no role in the study, Dr. Michael Hassett at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said he felt “cautious excitement” that immunotherapy may prove helpful for certain breast cancer patients.

Breast Cancer
Breast cancer cell, Wikimedia Commons

Side effects and cost

Side effects need a close look, both doctors said. Nearly all study participants had typical chemo side effects such as nausea or low blood cell counts, but serious ones were more common with the combo treatment and twice as many women on it stopped treatment for that reason.

Three of the six deaths from side effects in the combo group were blamed on the treatment itself; only one of three such deaths in the chemo group was.

Also Read: New DNA Tool To Predict People’s Height And Risk For Cancer

Cost is another concern. Tecentriq is $12,500 a month. The chemo in this study was Celgene’s Abraxane, which costs about $3,000 per dose plus doctor fees for the IV treatments. Older chemo drugs cost less but require patients to use a steroid to prevent allergic reactions that might interfere with the immunotherapy. Abraxane was chosen because it avoids the need for a steroid, said one study leader, Dr. Sylvia Adams of NYU Langone Health.

The study was sponsored by Roche and many study leaders consult or work for the company or own stock in it. (VOA)