Helping the Immune System Fight Back

New Approaches to Curing Multiple Myeloma

In just the past five years, the discovery of more effective new drugs like lenalidomide to treat multiple myeloma has dramatically improved patient outcomes. However, one treatment that holds particular promise for even greater advances is immunotherapy—boosting the power of the immune system to fight cancer.

In multiple myeloma, immune system components in the bone marrow microenvironment support, rather than destroy, the cancer cells.  “Since the multiple myeloma cell is part of the immune system, it knows how it works,” says Asher Chanan-Khan, MD, Associate Professor in the Roswell Park Department of Medicine and an internationally recognized expert on hematological cancers. “When the immune system fails, the cancer grows more aggressively.”
Donor support is now allowing Chanan-Khan to lead a multifaceted study focusing on the immune system’s potential. His research team includes investigators from the departments of Immunology, Cancer Genetics, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics. The collaborative studies aim to identify the immune components that support multiple myeloma cell survival; understand how immune system response to the disease are inhibited; and determine whether these immune system functions can be treated with drug therapy.

“Roswell was the first to recognize that the immune microenvironment in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and multiple myeloma can be effectively targeted with treatment,” Chanan-Khan says. “By developing new treatments that focus on the immune system, rather than the cancer cell, we hope to both increase survival, and spare patients the side effects of chemotherapy.”