Researchers at Stanford University are experimenting with a new kind of cancer treatment that works by targeting a protein called CD47, which cancer cells use to signal the body's innate immune system not to attack them.
By using an antibody to block CD47, the Stanford scientists were able to activate the immune system to attack a wide range of human cancers -- including ovarian, breast, colon, bladder, brain, liver and prostate -- in lab mice, and even fully cure them in some cases.
Their study found that cancer cells show much higher levels of CD47 than healthy cells do, and higher levels of CD47 in cancer cells seems to be correlated with shorter lifespans for cancer patients.
"It's becoming very clear that, in order for a cancer to survive in the body, it has to find some way to evade the cells of the innate immune system," said Irving Weissman, director of Stanford's Institute of Stem Cell Biology.
Although the new treatment looks promising -- particularly because it uses only one antibody and doesn't seem to produce any toxic side effects -- it has yet to enter clinical trials. Researchers hope to begin stage 1 and stage 2 trials within the next two years.