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Scientists seek to make cancer immunotherapy more efficient and safer

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New research suggests that scientists are working to improve immune-checkpoint inhibitors so they can better target cancerous cells and have a lower impact on healthy tissues.
Johnson, who was the principal author of the study along with Adi Diab MD and Yared Haimichael PhD, published the findings in Cancer Cell.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors, which use our immune system to fight cancer, have revolutionized the treatment and prevention of many types of cancer. Sometimes, these treatments can lead to side effects such as an immune system attacking healthy tissue in place of fighting cancer.

Colitis, or inflammation of the colon, is a common side effect of immune-checkpoint inhibitors. Researchers at MD Anderson and Ochsner Health found that certain cytokines (or proteins that activate certain immune cells) are expressed in higher amounts in patients who have received these immune checkpoint inhibitors. This is because colitis tissue shrinks more than cancer tissue.
The side effects of blocking this cytokine in laboratory models also improved the immune system’s ability to fight against cancer.
Daniel Johnson MD, a Ochsner Health medical oncologist, is the principal author of the study that identified interleukin-6 as a target for refining immunotherapies.
Johnson, who started the research while on a fellowship at MD Anderson, and continues it at Ochsner, said that blocking IL-6 could cause autoimmunity to be decoupled from antitumor immune.
“By targeting this particular protein in patients taking immune checkpoint inhibitors to fight cancer, we could improve the immune response and reduce inflammation in healthy tissue.”

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