There's an overused word in cancer research: "breakthrough." But the word might actually apply here, because researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine may have found a single treatment that, at least in mice, can beat back tumors from at least 7 cancers by wielding antibodies to block the CD47 protein.
That's a single treatment, folks. For multiple cancers.
And the results are so promising that lead researcher Irving Weissman, a pathology professor, and his team plan to plow ahead. Time, citing Science Now, notes they've nailed down a $20 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to test how safe their treatment is in people. Details, meanwhile, are in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
As the Los Angeles Times, Time and others reported when the news broke last week, the key here is CD47. The scientists already knew from previous work that using an antibody to block CD47 helped cure some mice that had leukemia and lymphoma. With their new research, they determined that CD47 is in most cells, but in particular abundance in many different kinds of cancerous cells. It is key to cancer, because as Time and the other reports explain, it helps prevent the body's immune system (macrophages) from attacking it.
In the lab, they filled a dish with macrophages (immune system cells) and human tumor cells from a variety of tumors. Next, they exposed the tumors to the antibody treatment, which successfully bound to the CD47 in the tumor cells. The macrophages subsequently ate them. In mice, after injecting the human tumor cells and giving them time to grow, they used the same antibody. What they found was it bound to the CD47 and either stopped tumors from spreading, killed off metastases, or defeated other cancers entirely.
We have for you a disclaimer: Much more testing is both likely, and required here. And the treatment could behave quite differently in people. But this is one of the more promising preclinical studies we've seen in a while.