A gene that’s associated with an autoimmune form of hair loss could be exploited to improve cancer immunotherapy, suggests a new mouse study by Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) researchers.

The paper was published online last month in the journal Cell Systems.

“While immunotherapies have shown great promise in cancer, most patients do not benefit from these treatments because their tumors are able to evade the immune system,” said study leader Angela M. Christiano, PhD, the Richard and Mildred Rhodebeck Professor of Dermatology and Genetics and Development at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “But one way around this obstacle is to harness genes that cause the recruitment of T cells in autoimmune disease, and use them to attract T cells to kill tumors. In this study, we showed that a gene that recruits T cells in alopecia areata–a condition in which immune cells attack and destroy hair cells–is turned off in various types of cancer, protecting them from the immune system. But if we turn that gene back on, we can make those cancers vulnerable to the immune response.”

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