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Age affects efficacy of immunotherapy treatments in breast cancer patients

Published on 09/09/19 at 12:51pm

Recent clinical trial data has shown that immune checkpoints blockade (ICB) therapy, designed to unleash a patient’s immune system to destroy cancer cells, can be significantly affected by age.

As part of the project, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and Harvard Medical School injected TNBF cell lines into young mice, aged eight to 12 weeks, and old mice, aged 12 to 15 months. Once tumours formed, the researchers gave them four doses of two ICB anti-PD-L1 or anti-CTLA-4 antibodies. They also injected a group with control antibodies.

The young mice experienced a huge reduction in tumour growth and had better overall survival rates compared to the older mice as well as the control. Gene markers that predicted responsiveness to ICB in the younger mice were prevalent in younger patients, but not in older ones.

Co-first author Greg Goreczny said: “Your immune system changes dramatically as you age, but no one has looked at how age affects the efficacy of this new class of drugs in breast cancer.

“Because there are so few older patients enrolled in clinical trials, not enough is known about the effect of age on ICB therapy."

Sarah McAllister, corresponding author and associate scientist at Brigham’s Haematology Divison, added: “Assessing the immune changes that occur with age could be a new way to think about immunotherapy.

“Immunological age might not be the same as chronological age. We’re beginning to understand the markets of immunological age, and this opens up the possibility of using it to guide treatment decisions in the clinic.”

Today, as it stands, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women and the most commonly diagnosed. It is estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.

Nikhil Kiran

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