Source: CNA news
Tsai Hsing-chen (front row, second left), an associate professor at National Taiwan University College of Medicine. CNA photo April 22, 2021
Taipei, April 24 (CNA) Researchers at National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) have found that a drug used to treat leukemia can enhance the efficacy of immunotherapy for lung cancer, a discovery they said could potentially increase life expectancy for those diagnosed with the disease.
At a press conference on Thursday, the NTUH team led by Tsai Hsing-chen (蔡幸真), a doctor in the hospital's Department of Internal Medicine, highlighted the pressing need for new treatments for lung cancer, which kills over 9,000 people per year in Taiwan and is often only discovered in its later stages.
In recent years, Tsai said, an increasing number of patients with advanced lung cancer have received immunotherapy, a type of treatment that seeks to boost the body's natural immune defenses and has fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.
At present, however, immunotherapy is only seen as a suitable treatment option for around 50 percent of lung cancer patients, and of those who receive it, only 30 percent see durable results, explained Shih Jin-yuan (施金元), director of the hospital's Thoracic Oncology Department.
In research carried out over four years, the NTUH team sought out ways to increase the efficacy of immunotherapy for lung cancer, while also making it a viable treatment option for a greater proportion of overall patients.
The approach it developed involves the use of decitabine, a drug used to treat acute myeloid leukaemia. Typically, this drug works by blocking the activity of specific enzymes (DNA methyltransferases or DNMTs) that promote the cancer's spread.
In their study, the team found that decitabine also increases the number of a certain type of receptor on the surface of lung cancer cells, making them more vulnerable to attack by immune cells known as gamma delta (γδ) T cells, Tsai said.
Although there are a limited number of gamma delta T cells in the body, they can be cultivated in a lab and transplanted into the body intravenously, Tsai said, explaining that such "infusions" would be a part of the treatment regimen.
According to Tsai, in mouse-based experiments the team conducted, the therapy regimen was able to effectively reduce tumor size and increase life expectancy.
To test the results, the team plans to seek permission to hold clinical trials, and is hopeful that its approach could also be adapted to other types of cancer, including colon and ovarian cancer, she said.
The team published its findings in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Communications on April 12.