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'Don't Eat Me' Impulse in Cancer Cells Stopped By New Antibody

Kristen Griffin brings a fresh perspective to news and blog content for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Kristen Griffin

April 06, 2012

Stanford, California - Though the descriptive moniker may sound cartoonish, but the “don't eat me” inclination all cancer cells have is derived from a protein. This protein – CD47 – blocks the body's immune system from attacking and destroying invasive bodies including cancer cells.

However, researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine isolated CD47's instinct and were able to develop an antibody that counters their “don't eat me” expression, opening the door for the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

In the Stanford study published by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found the “don't eat me” expression “present on every human cancer” that was tested, said the study's lead author, Dr. Irving Weissman. After placing human malignant tumors into laboratory mice with suppressed immune systems, the research team then dosed the mice with the new antibody.

Tumors from ovarian, breast, brain, pancreatic and colon cancers were placed into the mice, and after the mice received the new antibody, the spread of the cancer cells decreased or the tumors were destroyed altogether.

What CD47 does is that it protects cancer cells from being spotted by the immune system, and once the antibody is in place, the protection stops.

Since CD47 is present in all types of cancer cells and tumors, the possibility of cancer treatments and therapies designed to destroy cancer cells is immense. This antibody allows the immune system to do its job.

Though the antibody slows the spread of cancerous cells in the body, it has shown to increase the overall life expectancy of the lab mice. For more aggressive forms of cancer, like mesothelioma, the antibody may reduce the dispersement of the cancer cells through the body. Patients with mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure, most commonly affects the lining of the lungs, often face invasive treatment options to combat the disease.

Thus far, only one side effect appeared. The new antibody encouraged mild anemia, and the mice were treated successfully with medications to combat the side effect. During the course of the study, the appearance of anemia reduced, and it is believed that in initial dose of the new antibody, older red blood cells were destroyed, paving the way for anemia.

According to Dr. Weissman, the new antibody treatment may have additional applications beyond cancer. Currently, it is more of a theory, but it is believed that other medical conditions – specifically auto inflammatory diseases – may also respond well to the new antibody.

A clinical trial with human test subjects is set to begin soon in the United Kingdom, with the hope of commercial production beginning as early as 2013.

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