Target to make immunotherapy for cancer safer, while more effective

Ochsner Health System

Immune checkpoint inhibitors have revolutionized the treatment of many cancers by using our body’s immune system to kill cancer. These treatments sometimes can cause our immune system to fight healthy tissue instead, resulting in side effects. Scientists are working to try to improve immune checkpoint inhibitors to be more targeted on the tumor with less effects on healthy tissue.

A frequent adverse effect of immune checkpoint inhibitors is colitis, or inflammation in the colon. When studying patients receiving these immune checkpoint inhibitors, researchers at MD Anderson and Ochsner Health have uncovered that a particular cytokine, or protein that activates certain immune cells, is expressed at higher levels in colitis tissue than in cancer tissue shrinking from these treatments. They also showed that by blocking this cytokine in lab models, the immune system’s ability to fight cancer improves as side effects lessen. The study published today in Cancer Cell.

Daniel Johnson, MD, a medical oncologist at Ochsner Health, is a lead author on the study that identifies interleukin-6 (IL-6) as a potential target in refining targeted therapies.

“This study shows that blocking the expression of IL-6 could de-couple autoimmunity from antitumor immunity,” said Johnson, who began the research during fellowship at MD Anderson and has continued it at Ochsner. “By targeting this particular cytokine in patients receiving immune checkpoint inhibitors to treat cancer, we could potentially improve immune responses in cancer while lowering the risk of inflammation in healthy tissue.”

Johnson is a lead author on the study with Adi Diab, MD and Yared Hailemichael, PhD.

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