Obesity both feeds tumors and helps immunotherapy kill cancer

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Obesity both feeds tumors and helps immunotherapy kill cancer

A groundbreaking new study by UC Davis researchers has uncovered why obesity both fuels cancer growth and allows blockbuster new immunotherapies to work better against those same tumors.

A groundbreaking new study by UC Davis researchers has uncovered why obesity both fuels cancer growth and allows blockbuster new immunotherapies to work better against those same tumors.

The paradoxical findings, published today in Nature Medicine, give cancer doctors important new information when choosing drugs and other treatments for cancer patients.

“It’s counter-intuitive because up to this point all of our studies showed that obesity resulted in more toxicities associated with immunotherapy treatments,” said William Murphy, a co-last author of the study and vice chair of research in the UC Davis Department of Dermatology. “This is a game-changer because when we personalize medicine and look at body mass index, in some situations it can be bad, and in some situations it can be helpful.”

Obesity, which is reaching pandemic levels and a major risk factor for many kinds of cancer, also is known to hasten cancer growth, promote cancer recurrence and worsen chances of survival. Obesity also is associated with impairment of the immune system. Previous studies of the use of immune-stimulatory immunotherapies have demonstrated that in obese animal models and in humans, these drugs overstimulate the immune system and cause serious side effects.

The research, which involved studies using animal models and human patients, analyzed the effect of a different class of immunotherapies called checkpoint inhibitors. These drugs work by blocking pathways called immune checkpoints that cancers use to escape the immune system. They include drugs like Keytruda (pembrolizumab), which have dramatically improved survival in many lung cancer and melanoma patients. In the current study checkpoint inhibitors had a different effect than other immunotherapies, and in fact, resulted in better survival in those who are obese than in those who are not.

Why this happens, they discovered, relates both to the effect that obesity has on the immune system and to the way that checkpoint inhibitors do their jobs.

Read on: Obesity both feeds tumors and helps immunotherapy kill cancer

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