Cancer can trick our immune system into leaving it alone—even helping it to spread. But increasingly, scientists are seeking ways to rouse the immune system to destroy cancer cells. Recent work led by Waldemar von Zedtwitz Professor ‚Äčof Immunobiology Akiko Iwasaki and Anna Marie Pyle, Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, has produced a “potent antitumor response” in mice, they write in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. (Both Iwasaki and Pyle are Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators.)

Their team designed and synthesized a molecule they named SLR14. They used it in mice to trigger the mouse immune system to attack cancer cells, and the result was “significant tumor growth delay and an extended survival in SLR14-treated mice.” They also found that a variety of melanoma in mice that resists traditional immune therapies was “dramatically inhibited.”

“The most exciting aspect of the technology,” notes Pyle, “is that it not only destroys the treated tumor, but it destroys any related tumors in the organism. In other words, injection of one tumor provides in situ vaccination against all tumors or metastases of the tumor in an animal, as it induces immune memory.”

Plans for clinical trials are under way.


Which is worse, trauma or poverty? There is no definitive answer, but researchers led by Catherine Panter-Brick, the Chabner  Professor of Anthropology, Health, and Global Affairs, have conducted a study that suggests which affliction does more harm to our cognitive skills. The team evaluated the performance of 240 Syrian adolescent refugees and 210 Jordanian adolescent non-refugees, after both groups had experienced an intervention (led by Mercy Corps) to help alleviate profound stress and build resilience, among other things.

They gathered data in part through a series of computerized tasks for the participants, and found that poverty was the primary factor associated with lower levels of working memory. Refugees and nonrefugees didn’t differ much in working memory or inhibitory control—suggesting, says Panter-Brick, “that exposure to war-related trauma may not have lasting impacts on executive function.” She adds, “We need to address the ongoing poverty experienced by children and adolescents affected by war, a problem that may seem less visible and urgent than the consequences of war-related stress or trauma.” The finding was reported in Child Development.

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