October 13, 2006
Melanoma Cancer Disables Immune System

Melanomas cripple nearby lymph nodes but UCLA researchers have found a way to counteract that crippling.

Melanomas aid themselves in their quest to spread to other parts of the body by sending a chemical signal to the sentinel lymph node, the node most susceptible to early spread of the cancer. The signal cripples the sentinel node's immune response, making it more vulnerable to the cancer, UCLA researchers discovered.

However, UCLA scientists were able to reverse the immune suppression by injecting patients with a compound that stimulates an immune response in the node. The discovery, outlined in the recent issue of Nature Reviews/Immunology, provides valuable clues about how melanomas spread and may one day lead to new ways to treat this deadly form of skin cancer, which will strike more than 62,000 Americans this year. About 8,000 will die from the disease.

"Our success in engineering a reversal of the immune suppression may lead to ways to protect melanoma patients before their cancers attempt to spread," said Dr. Alistair Cochran, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and surgery, a researcher at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center and lead author of the study. "The restoration of the sentinel lymph node to its normal state should make it better able to fight the spread of cancer."

A new treatment would be a valuable tool for oncologists. Most melanoma patients undergo surgery, but few other treatments have proven effective against this aggressive cancer, Cochran said. Chemotherapy doesn't help much, nor do hormonal or vaccine treatments.

Note the mention of failures of cancer vaccines. These latest results might also help point the way toward making cancer vaccines more effective. As researchers find the various mechanisms by which cancer cells disable the immune system they will use this information to develop techniques to prevent this disablement. These techniques will also make anti-cancer vaccines much more effective. Better methods to control the immune system will yield better cancer treatments.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 October 13 12:10 AM  Biotech Cancer

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