Nature Gives Shout-Out to Wilmot for Immune Therapy Research

Jun. 4, 2014

One of the big topics in cancer research is immunotherapy and the need for a new generation of drugs that spur the immune system to fight tumors. John Frelinger’s lab was featured in a news article in the journal Nature, for its work on refining interleukin-2.

IV dripIL-2 is the first cancer immunotherapy to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It has been used somewhat successfully for several years to treat people with kidney cancer and advanced melanoma. The problem is that traditional IL-2 therapy often comes with life-threatening side effects, forcing some patients and oncologists to forego the risks of treatment.

Frelinger, Ph.D., professor of Microbiology and Immunology, is working on a strategy to modify IL-2 so that it remains inactive until it lands directly in the neighborhood of tumor cells. He is also investigating how to stimulate certain types of immune cells to create the best synergy for directly destroying cancer with minimal side effects.  He believes his approach could also be customized to attack different tumor types or an individual’s specific tumor.

Much of the trouble with IL-2 -- a protein that ignites T cells to fight viruses, bacteria, and cancer -- is that it wasn’t meant to be expressed at high levels throughout the body, Frelinger said. By revving up the immune system with IL-2, patients are at risk for vascular leak syndrome, a condition that can result in serious damage to vital organs. Other side effects include low blood pressure, rashes, and neurological problems; patients who have any underlying heart, lung or autoimmune conditions are at increased risk of serious side effects as well.

Read the full Nature News article here.