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Wednesday, 9 August, 2000, 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK
'Supercharged' immune system takes on cancer
lab tests
Researchers have found ways of boosting immune response
Scientists claim they have found a way of beefing up the body's own immune system to attack cancer.

The team, from the National Cancer Institute near Washington DC, say they were able to effectively prime the "sentry cells" which alert the body to foreign attack.

They took these "dendritic" cells and added proteins from various types of cancer, or viruses, using a bird virus to transport the proteins into the dendritic cells.

The role of these cells is to initiate a massive immune system assault on those tumours or viruses when they appear in the body.

And the researchers found that their modified dendritic cells responded far more powerfully to the cells or viruses for which they had been primed.

Mice given the modified cells produced more than six times the number of "killer T" cells, which are immune cells produced to neutralise a target.

Lead researcher Jeffrey Schlom said: "This shows we can really turbocharge the immune system."

Professor Ronald Levy, head of the cancer divison at Stanford University in the US, said that the bird virus could not replicate in human cells, so was likely to be safe to use in humans.

A safety trial for a treatment for cancer based on the immunotherapy might start within a year.

HIV therapy?

It is even hoped that a beefed-up immune system might even be able to attack HIV.

However, there are other safety worries connected with immunotherapies, whether for cancer or other illnesses.

Many human illnesses are actually caused by the immune system turning on its own body.

Rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis are just two debilitating conditions which have their roots in an unwanted immune reponse.

There are fears that giving more power to the immune elbow could increase the risks of so-called auto-immune disease.

Dr Caetano Reis e Sousa, head of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund's immunobiology laboratories in London, said: "A lot of people have been working with these cells.

"This sounds as if someone has had some success - but there are still worries.

"These sorts of experimental therapies are given only to the sort of patients who have very little alternative."

The research was reported in New Scientist magazine.

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See also:

23 Jun 00 | Health
Find boosts cancer vaccine hopes
14 Jun 00 | Health
Live HIV vaccine 'is possible'
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