The frontline immune system fighters, often evaded by tumors, might now resume the attack
K. BARAKAT AND M. AHMED/RECEPTORS & CLINICAL INVESTIGATION 2015
Cancer relies on a bag of tricks that can render it virtually invisible to the body’s disease-fighting apparatus. Tumors even co-opt “checkpoint” proteins found on the immune system’s T cells. These proteins normally prevent the immune system from running amok. When activated, these checkpoints can turn a T cell from a bristling warrior ready for a fight into a dozing sentinel — and cancer takes full advantage.
Now, though, new drugs that disable these checkpoint proteins are showing a keen ability to awaken T cells and, in so doing, pull away cancer’s veil. In the last year, studies testing a handful of these drugs have demonstrated eye-opening results against melanoma — the deadly kind of skin cancer — and tangible gains against other malignancies.
The results have sent a jolt through a research community that had grown doubtful about harnessing the immune system to fight cancer. “The sun is finally