A study conducted by the Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences (ICMS) has yielded a breakthrough that is expected to markedly enhance the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy. The collaborative study was led by Prof Chen Xin from UM’s Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences and Dr Joost J Oppenheim from the National Cancer Institute in the United States. The result of this study challenges the traditional view points and proposes a new method for cancer immunotherapy. This study was highly praised by research community and was just featured in The Scientist, an influential international magazine that reports on the most exciting discoveries and innovative trends across the spectrum of life science. This is the first time that a scientific research from Macao has been reported by this magazine.
According to Prof Chen, tumours use highly immunosuppressive regulatory T lymphocytes (Treg cells) to escape immune surveillance and to avoid being attacked by immune cells. Consequently, Treg cells promote the growth and metastasis of tumour. Therefore, the regulation of Treg cell’s function is a crucial element in a successful immunotherapy for tumour patients. It was long believed in the immunology research community that TNF (tumour necrosis factor) receptor type II (TNFR2) was able to down-regulate Treg function. However, the collaborative study between UM and the National Cancer Institute has found that TNFR2 in fact acts together with TNF to activate, expand, and stabilise Treg cells. The result has been reproduced by many labs around the world, and has been widely accepted by the immunology research community. Furthermore, this discovery provides a theoretic basis for investigators to develop safer and more effective new therapeutics against tumour and autoimmune diseases.
Using experimental mouse cancer models, Prof Chen’s research team discovered that ‘TNFR2 antagonistic agent’ could markedly reduce the activity of Treg cells in tumour tissues, thereby significantly enhancing the efficacy of tumour immunotherapy and the survival rates of tumour-bearing mice. Earlier this year, this study was published as an Editor’s Choice research paper with a commentary in Science Signaling. More recently, the study was featured in the April 2018 issue of The Scientist, with a quote from Prof Denis Faustman at Harvard Medical School: ‘The study suggests that combining an immunostimulant with a drug that targets tumour-infiltrating Tregs can result in permanent tumour immunity’.