Immune responses to prevent or delay the spread of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, are more likely to prolong survival in patients if their immune cells carry a special kind of marker on the surface, according to a team of researchers at the University of Virginia Health System. The finding is published in the November 1 issue of the journal Cancer Research, found on the web at http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/
The researchers correlated the presence or absence of the protein with survival in 52 U.Va. patients with advanced metastatic melanoma who were enrolled in experimental clinical trials over the last decade. They found that survival increased by fifty percent in patients whose T lymphocytes (the immune cells that kill tumors) carried a particular protein, or chemokine receptor, called CXCR3.
Increased survival was seen in patients with Stage III metastatic melanoma, but no increased survival was noticed in patients with Stage IV, stressing the importance of early detection and treatment for melanoma. "As immunologists continue to target the spread of cancer, this research gives scientists new clues to help develop vaccines that both ’turn-on’ cancer-killing immune cells, as well as instruct the cells on how to find tumors. Together, that will improve the efficacy of vaccines against cancer in the future," said the study’s principal investigator David W. Mullins, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and a researcher in the Human Immune Therapy Center (HITC) at the U.Va. Health System.
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