Researchers to start human trials of new anti-cancer drug

Researchers at Stanford are set to start human trials of a new drug that could emerge as a powerful weapon against cancer.

A study was conducted by Dr Irv Weissman, who developed an antibody capable of breaking down the defense mechanism of cancer cells in the body.

The body's defences are restrained by a protein called CD47 against ''eating'' the cancer, but Dr Weisman's antibody blocks CD47 and frees up immune cells called macrophages - which can then engulf the deadly cells.

According to the new research macrophages function as intelligence gatherers for the body, pointing out cancerous cells to cancer-fighting ''killer T'' cells. According to the researchers, the T cells then ''learn'' to hunt down and attack the cancer.

According to MD / PhD student Diane Tseng, the lead author of the study, it was completely unexpected that CD8+ T cells would be mobilised when macrophages engulfed the cancer cells in the presence of CD47-blocking antibodies. After engulfin g of cancer cells, macrophages activate T cells to mobilise their own immune attack against cancer, she added.

According to experts, the new research offered hope that the therapy would cause the immune system to launch a two-pronged attack on cancer - through the deployment of both macrophages and T cells.

On being presented with a patient's cancer cells by macrophages, the T cells become attuned to the unique molecular markers on the cancer.

According to researchers this turned them into a personalised cancer vaccine. Tseng added, as T cells were sensitised to attack a patient's particular cancer, the administration of CD47-blocking antibodies in a sense could work as a personalised vaccination against that cancer.

The researchers plan to launch a small 10-100 person phase I clinical human trial of the cancer therapy in 2014.