A gene responsible for hair loss could increase the effectiveness of immunotherapy

Published on August 10, 2018

American researchers have come to understand the links between the IKZF1 gene, responsible for hair loss, and the activity of the immune system in tumors. Their results could improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy for some patients.

Overcoming cancer with the help of one’s body… is not the proposal of a dubious marabout but the concept of immunotherapy. It involves stimulating the body’s immune defenses to attack the tumor. Researchers at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center recently published the results of a new study in Cell Systems that shows that the gene responsible for hair loss could improve the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy.

Tumors that escape the immune system

One in two cancers today is cured thanks to “classic” cancer treatments: surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Immunotherapy will not replace these effective techniques, but it can help patients for whom conventional methods do not work. But for some, immunotherapy is out of reach: “Many patients can not benefit from immunotherapy because their tumors are able to escape the immune system,” said Angela M. Christiano, head of the study.

The role of the IKZF1 gene

The study began with the recognition that autoimmune diseases and cancer represent opposite ends of the immune signaling spectrum. When the immune system is overactive, a patient may be at risk for autoimmune disease; when it’s underactive, cancer can evade the immune system and progress.

Researchers identified the highly active genes in case of autoimmune disease to exploit them in the treatment of cancers. Among them the gene IKZF1, which is responsible for the overproduction of immune cells, causes the destruction of hair follicles and therefore hair loss. In this study, the researchers investigated whether they could activate IKZF1 in tumor cells in order to attract T cells to tumors, mobilizing them to attack the cancer.

The researchers tested their results on mice. In mice for which the gene has been activated, the immune response is stronger, and the tumor is less able to escape the immune system compared to mice in the test group.

Different cancers, different immune responses

These results may differ depending on the type of cancer because the IKZF1 gene is not always active. In the case of kidney and colorectal tumors, the gene does not improve the efficacy of immunotherapy. On the other hand, it does for prostate cancer. These findings could improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy in the treatment of this cancer and treat a greater number of patients.


Harnessing Hair Loss Gene Could Improve Cancer Immunotherapy

Adapted from a text written by Mégane Fleury (Pourquoi Docteur) © All rights reserved – 2018

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