Russia and the U.S. make progress in the fight against cancer

The researchers discovered several protein fragments that may be recognized by the immune system and serve as markers to identify and fight cancer.

The researchers discovered several protein fragments that may be recognized by the immune system and serve as markers to identify and fight cancer.

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Scientists from the U.S. and Russia identified several recurrent mutations that are likely to be recognized by the immune system and that could be strong candidates for cancer vaccines.

Researchers from several major U.S. universities, and the Saint Petersburg University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO), examined 1,144 genome profiles of patients with two of the most common types of lung cancer -- lung adenocarcinoma, and lung squamous cell carcinoma.

Previously, researchers assumed major driver mutations to be similar between lung adenocarcinoma and lung squamous cell carcinoma. The new study, however, indicates that the underlying cell type is a key factor in determining whether or not the mutation causes cells to grow and multiply uncontrollably.

"Future studies are needed to determine what allows a mutation in a gene to cause uncontrolled growth in one type of cell but not in another,'' commented lead author of the paper Joshua Campbell, a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. "This knowledge will give us a more complete understanding of the molecular pathways involved in tumor growth and help us design better drugs.''

The researchers additionally discovered several protein fragments that may be recognized by the immune system and serve as markers to identify and fight cancer. An estimated 47 percent of lung adenocarcinoma and 53 percent of lung squamous cell carcinoma samples have the potential for immunotherapy, which is a type of treatment aimed at harnessing the patient’s own immune system.

Immunotherapy has an advantage over chemo and radiotherapy, because it targets tumor cells and spares healthy cells. "The immune system is highly selective, and we need to inform the body that it didn't notice something very important," said Anton Aleksandrov, an ITMO researche r involved in software development for the immunological study.

"Cells constantly provide protein pieces called epitopes to the immune system for review, and if for some reason the immune system is not able to capture the epitope of a mutated protein and misses it, then a tumor may arise," said Aleksandrov. "The search for epitopes that can be detected by a patient's immune system is critical to the development of individual cancer treatment strategies."

The study was headed by Matthew Meyerson, a senior associate at the Broad Institute, as well as a professor of pathology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston. 

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