Finding new ways to protect patients during chemo

Memphis, Tennessee, September 26, 2016

(From left) Elaine Tuomanen, chair of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases, first author Akinobu Kamei, M.D., a research associate in the Department of Infectious Diseases,  and senior author Peter Murray, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases and Department of Immunology.

(From left) Elaine Tuomanen, chair of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases, first author Akinobu Kamei, M.D., a research associate in the Department of Infectious Diseases,  and senior author Peter Murray, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases and Department of Immunology.

Infections are one of the greatest threats to cancer patients during chemotherapy. The anti-cancer drugs lower the supply of disease-fighting immune cells that fight infections.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists have discovered a potential way to solve this problem by remodeling white blood cells called macrophages.  Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that resides in tissue.

Working in the lab, researchers found that vaccination led to production of a new form of macrophages in the lung. Scientists called the newly recognized cells vaccine-induced macrophages or ViMs.

ViMs are different from conventional lung macrophages. Their population remains stable during chemo. In the lab, they also offer more protection against infections.

The research suggested that ViMs are maintained in the lungs through cell division. ViMs also don’t rely on immune cells in the bone marrow, which are wiped out during chemo. Work continues to find safer, easier ways to produce ViMs in cancer patients.

“I am an infectious diseases doctor and have witnessed how infections can disrupt cancer treatment and threaten patient survival,” said Akinobu Kamei, MD, of Infectious Diseases. “This study suggests a possible framework for developing new ways to protect patients during chemotherapy.”

The research appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read the news release.

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