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‘Anti-camouflage’ drug marks exciting bladder cancer breakthrough

Research recently published in medical journal Nature has detailed how a new treatment strips cancer cells of the camouflage they use to disguise themselves as healthy cells in order to ‘trick’ the body’s immune system, will help cancer patients in their fight against the disease.

The study was carried out by the Yale Cancer Center in partnership with the Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London hospital, is the latest breakthrough in the field of immunotherapy – where diseases like bladder cancer are treated by inducing or enhancing an immune system’s response.

The immune system is vulnerable to cancers which try to hijack their response system by hiding from being detected, by using various proteins to disguise themselves.

In this study carried out by the two world-renowned institutions, 68 patients with advanced bladder cancer started to show signs of recovery after treatment from the drug, despite showing symptoms of cancer cells using proteins to hide from their body’s immune system. More than half the number of patients started to show signs of recovery, and two of the 68 even showed no signs of cancer after the treatment.

Dr Tom Powles is an oncologist at the Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University Hospital London, and stated, “There have been no new drugs for bladder cancer for thirty years. The tumours have developed a camouflage layer known as PD-L1 and by removing the camouflage the tumour becomes identifiable.”

Dr Roy Herbst led the research at the Yale Cancer Center and told the BBC: “This is a new paradigm in cancer. Immunotherapy for cancer has opened up an entirely new modality for the treatment of the disease alongside chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.”

Although larger and randomised clinical trials will be needed before this drug is used as experimental therapy in Europe, this is still great news for bladder cancer patients in a field where there have been no further treatment breakthroughs for thirty years.

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