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An antibody, produced by the body's own immune system, preferentially attacks only cancer cells, according to a new study from researchers at Duke University Medical Center. It works by dismantling the cancer cell's defense system.

The study began when researchers noticed that, in some lung cancer patients, early-stage tumors don't progress or spread in the body. These patients had antibodies that worked against a protein called complement factor H (CFH). CFH prevents activation of a specific part of the immune system, complement C3b protein, that promotes cell death.

To see how this immune response could be optimized as a cancer therapy, the researchers developed a process that produced antibodies that attacked cancer cells, not healthy cells. They tested this antibody process in multiple cancer cell lines and in tumors in living mice. The antibodies caused tumor cell death, without side effects, and, even better, it resulted in signals that recruited lymphocytes. "We developed the first completely human derived antibody that has anti-tumor activity, and activates the immune system," senior author Edward F. Patz, Jr., MD, the James and Alice Chen Professor of Radiology and professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke University.

The researchers hope to test this in a phase 1 clinical trial soon.

This study was published in Cell Reports.

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