Penn Researchers Uncover Novel Immune Therapy for Pancreatic Cancer

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Media Contact:Holly Auer | holly.auer@uphs.upenn.edu | 215-349-5659 March 24, 2011

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center have discovered a novel way of treating pancreatic cancer by activating the immune system to destroy the cancer’s scaffolding. The strategy was tested in a small cohort of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer, several of whose tumors shrank substantially. The team believes their findings – and the novel way in which they uncovered them -- could lead to quicker, less expensive cancer drug development.

The authors call the results, published in the March 25 issue of Science, a big surprise. “Until this research, we thought the immune system needed to attack the cancer directly in order to be effective,” said senior author Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, an associate professor of Medicine in the division of Hematology/Oncology and the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute. “Now we know that isn’t necessarily so. Attacking the dense tissues surrounding the cancer is another approach, similar to attacking a brick wall by dissolving the mortar in the wall. Ultimately, the immune system was able to eat away at this tissue surrounding the cancer, and the tumors fell apart as a result of that assault. These results provide fresh insight to build new immune therapies for cancer.”

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