As the body’s first line of defense against disease, the immune system should be an important factor in protection from cancer. In laboratories, scientists watch white blood cells attack cancer cells; yet for more than a century, scientists were unable to explain why the same was not true within the body. On October 15, 2013, the New York Times described a breakthrough in this mystery, leading to a new type of treatment using the body’s own immune cells to fight certain cancers.
Scientists found that cancer evades our natural defenses by commandeering a protective mechanism: the body’s own brakes on the immune system. Once activated, the immune system’s relentless attack on foreign cells will continue, to the point of damage, if not turned off. Researchers found that some cancers cloak themselves in these brakes, allowing unchecked growth. Now, knowing how cancer evades the immune system, researchers are developing new treatments to break down this protection.
Chordoma scientists have already started investigating the possibilities that this new discovery has presented. In 2011, Dr. Michael Lim, a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, approached the Chordoma Foundation with a proposal to test an immune system brake (PD-1) inhibitor in chordoma. With funding from the Foundation, Dr. Lim studied the effects of a PD-1-suppressing drug in combination with radiation therapy, producing promising results. Encouraged, we plan to invest additional resources in exploring immunotherapy as a treatment for chordoma.
We’re excited about the potential for new treatments that may result from Dr. Lim’s research, as well as the interest it generates from companies working to develop those treatments. Your financial support allows us to ensure that the latest research advances will continue to be applied to chordoma, moving us closer to more effective treatments and, ultimately, a cure.