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GEN News Highlights : Mar 27, 2007

Immunity to Cancer Stem Cell Protects Against Disease

Rockefeller researchers discover that resistance to stem cell protein SOX2 shields a person from developing myeloma.

Rockefeller University scientists have found that immunity to cancer stem cells may help protect people with a precancerous condition from developing the full-blown disease. They showed that patients with monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) who naturally develop an immune response to an embryonic stem cell protein, SOX2, appear to be protected against the development of myeloma.

MGUS, which is relatively benign, progresses into multiple myeloma in a small number of cases. Madhav Dhodapkar, M.D., associate professor and head of Rockefeller's Laboratory of Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy tracked patients with early plasma cell tumors for up to three years. These tumors are present in both MGUS and early myeloma.

The team filtered their results depending on whether the subjects had an immune reaction against SOX2. They found that 13 patients showed immunity to the protein. By the end of the study, none of their tumors had progressed. However, of the 18 patients who did not have an immune reaction to SOX2, 70% developed progressive myeloma.

"So a person's immunity to this antigen, SOX2—which is thought to be important to embryonic stem cells and is also expressed in cancer—appears to predict the outcome in people with premalignancy or early myeloma," Dr. Dhodapkar says. "This shows that the biology of stem cell genes is going to be important in the context of cancer biology.”

The research was published in the March 26 issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.