Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States and successfully treating it is challenging.
Affecting both men and women, lung cancer accounts for around 14 percent of all new cancer diagnoses.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated that, in 2018, there will be more than 234,000 new cases of lung cancer and over 154,000 deaths to it.
Each year, more people die from lung cancer than they do from breast, prostate, and colon cancer combined.
One reason that the prognosis for lung cancer is so poor is that only around 20 percent of cases respond to immunotherapies. This rate is significantly lower than other cancers.
Lung Cancer: Why Success is Difficult
A successful immune response to a cancer cell depends on a huge number of signal molecules working in synchrony. One important component of the response is a transcription factor called Tbet.
This protein encourages the production of other cells that are important in the fight against tumors, including group 1 T helper cells (Th1 cells) and CD8 T cells.
Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Germany are investigating what it is about lung cancer that makes immune-based treatments ineffective. During Dr. Finotto’s earlier research, she discovered that lung tumors tend to grow back if there is no Tbet transcription factor present in the immune cells.
Currently her team is focusing on another important immune modulator, known as Treg.
Lung Cancer: What Is Treg
Treg is known to help reduce inflammation in the lungs, but little is known about its effect on lung carcinoma. Earlier research showed that Treg cells reduce the anti-tumor response in lung cells, thereby promoting tumor growth.
Dr. Finotto and her team found that lung tumors are able to “reprogram” the immune response to a tumor. They respond by producing TGF-beta, a protein that strengthens Treg cells. The strengthened Treg cells then attack and reduce the cancer cells.
The researchers hope that by intervening in this immune pathway, lung cancer patients’ survival rates might be improved.
These latest results are promising and more testing is necessary. Since lung cancer immune system’s interactions are complex and these discoveries recent, it will be some time before human patients see any new drugs.