In the last couple of years, there has been active research looking at enhancing our immune system to fight cancer. Dr. James Allison, Ph.D., a professor at University of California in Berkeley, and now a professor and chair of the Department of Immunology at MD Anderson, discovered Cytotoxic T Lymphocyte Antigen 4, (CTLA-4) a protein that attached to the T cell lymphocytes and "puts the breaks" on the T lymphocytes preventing these important cells from fighting cancer. It is thought that the CTLA-4 occurs when there is a genetic mutation, which produces this abnormal protein.
T lymphocytes are very important in the immune response to actively fight cancer cells. Dr. Allison and his team discovered that blocking the CTLA-4 allowed the T Lymphocytes "get to work" attacking and inactivating cancer cells resulting in tumor regression. An antibody drug was developed, initially known as anti-CTLA-4 (and now known as ipilimumab - approved by the F.D.A. in 2011), to inhibit the CTLA-4 antigen. This drug and other drugs being developed along these same lines (see my previous blog posting) are known as "Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors". In the past, there was very little hope for patients with metastatic and advanced melanoma. In clinical trials, these newer drugs are significantly extending the survival of patients with advanced melanoma and other forms of cancer, such as Renal Cell Carcinoma. My prediction is that developments in enhancing the immune system to fight cancer is the future of cancer treatment and will be a "game changing" blessing.