Converting Cancer Cells into Tumor Killers

Imiquimod produces major immune system responses

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Prescription creams containing a compound known as imiquimod" data-scaytid="1">imiquimod, such as Aldara, are known and approved to effectively treat some skin cancers, particularly basal cell carcinoma. New studies suggest this compound may be even more useful.

Researchers have found that imiquimod has antitumor effects that modify the immune system, essentially turning cancer cells into tumor-cell killers.

"Have any unusual mole checked out by a dermatologist."

Researchers, led by Maria Sibilia at the Medical University in Vienna, Austria, experimented with a mouse model of melanoma, the most serious and lethal form of skin cancer.

They found that imiquimod does more than abolish the tumors. When imiquimod is applied to the skin, it recruits immune cells known as plasmacytoid DCs to the tumor site.

When tumors are exposed to imiquimod, cancer cells are turned into tumor-cell killers.

It's as though they the cancer cells become fighter pilots, waging war against an old enemy.

In an accompanying commentary, Nina Bhardwaj and colleagues at New York University conclude that while more study is needed, the outlook for this compound could be impressive not only for melanoma.

"As vaccine adjuvants, they are showing promise in the clinic against various cancers, even when injected directly into the tumor," they wrote.

This study was published in the January, 2012 issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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Review Date: 
January 20, 2012
Last Updated:
January 20, 2012