Headed by Dr. Michael Peled, researcher and attending physician at Sheba’s Institute for Pulmonary Medicine, and Prof. Arie Admon of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, the study involved isolating and analyzing peptides (a short chain of amino acids) found in lung fluid, proving that human lymphocyte (a type of white blood cell) antigen peptides can serve as biomarkers for tumor diagnosis, and also store information that helps detect certain types of lung cancer.
The human lymphocyte antigen system, or HLA, is the part of the immune system used to encode molecules found on the cell’s surface that are specialized to present peptides to the T-cell receptor (TCR) on T-cells, which in turn fight unwanted cells in the body. According to Prof. Admon, “These antigens could be used to stimulate the immune system so that it attacks the tumor.”
HLA molecules often carry antigens that originate in and around cancerous tumors. As lung cancer often results in fluid buildup in the lungs, these HLA peptides collect in the lung fluid (pleural effusion). Using the methodology they established for the study, researchers can harvest HLA molecules, isolate antigens from the lung fluid and apply them for a variety of purposes.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of global cancer deaths each year, with just a 19 percent 5-year survival rate. In its early stages, lung cancer is treated with surgery, radiotherapy (radiation), and chemotherapy. However, once the cancer has advanced, these treatments tend to be less effective, and oncologists look to immunotherapy or targeted therapy to slow its spread.
Immunotherapy uses the immune system – whether by boosting its operation or manipulating its activity – to attack cancer cells. The new peer-reviewed research study, published in the Journal for Immunotherapy in Cancer (JITC), suggests that human lymphocyte antigen (HLA) peptides can be used to develop new immunotherapies for lung cancer.
“We can detect the peptides, and theoretically, they could be used as a new way to diagnose cancer and to create a cancer-fighting vaccine for specific patients,” said Dr. Peled.
The researchers hope their study will promote the development of advanced-stage lung cancer treatments and expedite the diagnostic process, ultimately improving the prognosis for patients across the globe.