Stanford University scientists have discovered a single drug that has killed or shrunk every kind of cancer tumor it has been used against — a new weapon that some have described as a kind of medical Holy Grail.
The drug blocks a protein produced in large amounts by cancer cells — called CD47 — that keeps the body’s natural immune system from fighting tumors. But shutting down the CD47 production, the new antibody drug effectively leaves cancer cells vulnerable to the body’s own defense mechanisms.
Tests of the drug found that it destroyed several kinds of human cancer cells transplanted into mice — including breast, ovary, colon, bladder, brain, liver, and prostate tumors — by prompting the rodents’ immune systems to kill the cancer cells.
“We showed that even after the tumor had taken hold, the antibody can either cure the tumor or slow its growth and prevent metastasis,” said biologist Irving Weissman of the Stanford University School of Medicine, in an interview with Science Magazine.
The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could lead to clinical trials in cancer patients as early as next year, according to a Stanford School of Medicine statement posted on its website.
The new research is an outgrowth of previous studies Weissman conducted that found leukemia cells produce higher levels of CD47 than healthy cells, Science Magazine reported. In recent years, Weissman and colleagues discovered that blocking CD47 with an antibody cured some cases of lymphoma and leukemia in mice by stimulating the immune system to see the cancer cells as invaders.
But the new research goes further, suggesting CD47 isn’t just important on leukemias and lymphomas, but on every kind of tumor tested to date, Weissman said.
The study was funded, in part, by a $20 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for human studies
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