Canadian researchers have found that cells of the immune system can circulate throughout the body and attack cancerous tissues, if they are properly trained.
Led by McMaster University's Jonathan Bramson, the researchers are now working to accelerate the ongoing immune system research through a new Cancer Immunotherapy Program, being launched with 3.5 million dollars in funding from the Terry Fox Foundation through the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC).
"This immune system research has enormous potential and is one of the top cancer research projects in Canada. We eagerly anticipate the results," says Dr. Michael Wosnick, executive director of the NCIC.
Besides continuing the development of vaccines specifically for breast cancer, the research will involve experiments to stimulate and enhance immune responses against tumours, and the development of more sophisticated imaging technologies to observe the immune stimulating agents.
"The team we have assembled for this program represents the Canadian leaders in this field, and will be conducting a series of laboratory experiments designed to enhance the activity of our experimental immune stimulating approaches," said Bramson, an associate professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and principal investigator on the project.
"Harnessing the power of the immune system to fight cancer heralds the next era of cancer treatment," he added.
He further said that the new program would enable researchers to continue advancing methods by which immune activating cells from humans are modified in the laboratory, and infused into patients where they will trigger other immune cells to seek out and destroy cancer.
"Tumours avoid immune attack by convincing the immune system that they are normal, like a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Bramson.
"Our strategies are designed to teach the immune system how to spot the tell-tale signs of the wolf. In this way, the tumours will no longer be able to hide, but the healthy tissues will be left untouched," he added.
The research team comprises of both basic scientists and clinical investigators, which is why the questions about the implementation of the experimental therapies can be examined along with the development of the science involved.
"By bringing these leaders together, we will be able to greatly augment the pace of delivery of this exciting new therapy," said Bramson.
"The net result will ultimately have a significant impact on cancer treatment in Canada and the world," he added.