Health Beat: A better treatment for ovarian cancer, thanks to the Sonic Hedgehog gene? | health beat
PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – For many patients with ovarian cancer, doctors typically recommend surgery and chemotherapy. An innovative treatment called immunotherapy, which uses a patient’s own immune cells, has been shown to be effective for other types of cancer, but has limited success in ovarian cancer. Now researchers may have discovered one of the reasons why, and therefore may have a targeted treatment for it.
Pittsburgh researchers have identified cells, called mesenchymal cells, or MSCs, that form a barrier around ovarian cancer, meaning immunotherapies designed for a patient’s own T cells won’t work.
Ronald Buckanovich, MD, PhD, of the Women’s Cancer Research Center, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and Magee Women’s Research Institute, explained, “T cells come to the tumor, but they get stuck on the outside and they don’t can’t get in and do their job.
These cells travel to cancer through what is called the hedgehog pathway.
The hedgehog pathway gets its name from the fact that in early genetic studies, fruit flies with a certain genetic mutation had hair that stood up like a hedgehog. In fact, one of the Harvard researchers who made the discovery had kids who liked video games, so he named a gene after Sonic the Hedgehog.
“There are drugs that inhibit the hedgehog pathway that are FDA approved. They are used to treat diseases like basal cell carcinoma or blastoma,” Dr. Buckanovich said.
Dr. Buckanovich and his fellow researchers in Pittsburgh want to test a combination therapy. The patients were taking drugs that block hedgehog genes. They would also take another immunotherapy drug called atezolizumab, allowing the immunotherapy drugs to pass MSC cells, so they can fight ovarian cancer.
Scientists tested the drugs in animals and found that the combination worked to allow immune cells to cross the MSC barrier. The researchers asked the FDA to start a small trial of the combination treatment in humans. Dr. Buckanovich anticipates that they will begin recruiting patients this spring.