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Research Snapshot: U of M student explores the relationship between cancer vaccines and chemotherapy

Many in the cancer research field have been energized by new treatments centering around immunotherapy, which utilizes one’s own immune system to treat an illness. One such form of immunotherapy – cancer vaccination – strives to increase a host’s number of T cells and can either help prevent cancer from developing or strengthen the body’s natural ability to defend against the cancer.

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved a handful of cancer vaccines, but researchers across the country (including many across the University of Minnesota) are seeking new solutions capitalizing on this robust area within the field of immunotherapy.

Along those lines, Adam Litterman, a student from the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Microbiology Immunology and Cancer Biology Program (MICaB) recently published work entitled “Profound Impairment of Adaptive Immune Responses by Alkylating Chemotherapy”, which can be found in The Journal of Immunology.

In the publication, Litterman outlines how conventional chemotherapy affects cancer vaccines. Surprisingly, he and his team found that one type of cancer treatment, alkylating chemotherapy, had a negative effect on the ability of T cells to proliferate. As a result, cancer vaccine function is impeded, which is notable because alkylating chemotherapy is used often in cancer treatment.

“This is important because alkylating chemotherapy is used as a standard treatment for many deadly types of cancer – the very types people hope to treat with cancer vaccines, including brain cancer and metastatic melanoma,” said Litterman.

The findings offer solutions that can better chemotherapy down the road.

“By improving our understanding of chemotherapy could negatively impact cancer vaccine approaches, it should be possible to design future clinical trials that explore how we can adapt the administration of chemotherapy and cancer vaccines to minimize those negative impacts,” said Litterman. “Research like this should help us determine problem areas so we can more accurately develop solutions.”

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