Discovery of new “checkpoint” points to new cancer immunotherapy option

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An international team involving Vanderbilt researchers has discovered that a new “checkpoint” protein on immune system cells is active in tumors, and that blocking it — in combination with other treatments — is a successful therapeutic approach in mouse models of cancer. The findings were reported in the journal Cell.

Checkpoint proteins are regulators of the immune response; they put on the “brakes” to protect normal tissues. Checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapies take these brakes off, unleashing the immune system’s cancer-killing power. They have been remarkably effective against a number of cancers.

Currently available checkpoint inhibitors target one of two immune system checkpoint pathways, but many more checkpoint proteins exist, said Michael Korrer, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow working with Young J. Kim, MD, PhD, Barry and Amy Baker Professor of Laryngeal, Head and Neck Research at Vanderbilt.