Cancer cells evade immunotherapy by hiding telltale marker, suggesting how to stop relapse
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SEATTLE — Sept. 24, 2018 — Harnessing the immune system to treat cancer shows great promise in some patients, but for many, the response does not last long-term. In an effort to find out why, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientists are using a new technology to look at how cancer cells change under the pressure of immunotherapy treatments.

In a study published Sept. 24 in Nature Communications, researchers used a newly developed method for measuring molecules in single cells to deeply analyze the response to a combination immunotherapy for patients with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare skin cancer caused by a common virus.

“Twenty percent of Merkel cell patients have an initial response to immunotherapy but then relapse – it’s been unclear why,” said first author, Dr. Kelly Paulson, senior fellow at Fred Hutch. “Understanding the cause of relapse allows us to design immunotherapies that can get toward long-term tumor control to make cancer a more chronic disease.”

Paulson and senior author Dr. Aude Chapuis, assistant member of Fred Hutch, studied cancer cells from two patients who initially responded to the combination therapy, which combined a checkpoint inhibitor to rev up the immune system with a T-cell therapy

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