Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Breaching the Defence

Blocking tumour protein FAK releases checkpoint brake making ovarian cancer susceptible to immunotherapy

13 July 2022

Breaching the Defence

Whether it’s a caterpillar constructing a cocoon or kids building a den, forming a protective environment around yourself is a good strategy. Unfortunately, cancer cells appear to know this trick too, and ovarian tumours protect themselves from many chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments. A new study has examined this defensive strategy, searching for potential weaknesses. Many immunotherapies aim to unleash the immune system by releasing natural molecular brakes called checkpoint receptors. The researchers discovered that in ovarian cancer tissue (pictured), a protein called focal-adhesion kinase (FAK, highlighted in green) regulates CD155 (red), a protein that binds to these receptors. Maintaining high levels of CD155 keeps immune cells (pink) at bay. Experiments that both subdued FAK and blocked the receptors increased the immune response to the cancer, resulting in smaller tumours and increasing survival, raising hopes that a similar strategy could help patients, who currently have very limited treatment options.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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