First Evidence That the Immune System Can Halt Cancer Progession Permanently

New research in Nature shows that the immune system can control tumors permanently without destroying cells. The researchers treated cancers with two proteins that activate the immune system (interferon-g and tumor necrosis factor) and found that the combination kept tumors from growing by making the cells dormant. This work could ultimately lead to cancer treatments that are both effective and free of side effects, suggesting that we shift from the “war on cancer” strategy of killing tumor cells to focus instead on restoring the body’s innate ability to arrest tumor development.


Treating BRAF-Mutated Melanoma: Tough Choices for Clinicians and Patients


Where there were no treatment options for metastatic melanoma patients in the past, there are now several. Prior to 2010, only two treatments were approved: the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine and recombinant human interleukin 2 (IL-2) immunotherapy. Neither was effective in providing durable responses or led to an improvement in overall survival.

But now, the immunotherapy antibody ipilimumab and the targeted oral therapy vemurafenib, a BRAF inhibitor, have been shown to improve overall survival. Both were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011. Continue reading…


Noncoding, But Important Mutations Found in Vast Majority of Melanomas


It is always gratifying to see two research groups ask similar questions, use different approaches, and converge on the same answer. Researchers on both sides of the pond—at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as at the German Cancer Research Center and the University Hospital Essen in Germany—found that mutations in a noncoding DNA segment in the TERT gene are highly prevalent in melanoma tumors. Each group only found out about the other’s results after submitting its own research for publication. Continue reading…


Circulating Tumor Cells May Help Determine Melanoma Prognosis


Developing ways to isolate and accurately analyze circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from the blood of cancer patients with solid tumors continues to be an active area of research. Scientists have known for a long time that CTCs can be detected—the first description of CTCs in the blood of a patient with metastatic cancer was reported by Thomas Ashworth in 1869. CTCs travel in the blood as part of the metastatic process, whereby cancer spreads from one organ to another. Continue reading…


Alternative Dosing Schedule Could Delay Resistance to Targeted Melanoma Therapy


Treatment with vemurafenib, a drug in the BRAF inhibitor family, results in rapid tumor shrinkage in metastatic melanoma patients with the V600E BRAF mutation. The response lasts for months, but unfortunately, tumors ultimately become resistant to the treatment. Currently, vemurafenib is given as an oral dose on a daily basis. But a new study published in Nature (doi:10.1038/nature11814) suggests that a 4-weeks-on, 2-weeks-off dosing schedule may help to stave off resistance. Continue reading…