Austin, Texas Department of Oncology Professor, Kevin Dalby, Discusses Whether Vitamin D Can Prevent Side Effects of Anti-Cancer Immunotherapy

Strong immune system T cell attacking a cancer tumor as an Immunotherapy therapy concept as a biomedical or biomedicine oncology strength treatment with 3D illustration elements.

The latest cancer
treatments take advantage of immune checkpoint inhibitors to help patients
fight cancer. Unfortunately, these treatments increase the likelihood of
developing side effects such as colitis, an inflammatory reaction in the colon.
New research holds the key to reducing such side effects. 

Kevin Dalby, Austin, Texas chemical
biology and medicinal chemistry professor, is an experienced researcher in
biochemistry, cancer, cell biology, chemical biology, drug discovery &
diagnostics, and enzymology. Dalby dives deeper into the new research findings
on how vitamin D can help prevent and reduce potentially significant side
effects of a novel form of anti-cancer therapy. 

In the journal CANCER, a recent publication reviewed by
the American Cancer Society (ACS) revealed through a study the potential
vitamin D supplements hold to assist in decreasing the side effects of a revolutionary form of anti-cancer therapy. Many people have a vitamin D deficiency, and its importance to
the body makes vitamin D a daily consideration, even when cancer is not a part
of the picture.  

In reference to its
preventative measures for anticancer immunotherapy’s side effects, vitamin D
aids in evoking the immune system of
the body to better fight cancer. Researchers discovered that immune checkpoint
inhibitors help the body’s immune system to locate and battle cancer cells.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors are a type of immunotherapy drug that blocks
specific proteins made by certain kinds of immune system cells and cancer cells.
Such checkpoints decrease the strength of immune responses and often can hold
back immune system cells, like T-cells, from defeating cancer cells. 

Immune checkpoint
inhibitors have resulted in success for many victims of cancer to promote
survival. However, the side effects caused can be harmful to areas of the body,
such as the colon. Colitis, or the inflammatory response in the colon, can be
induced by immune checkpoint inhibitors. Such a reaction in the colon can limit
the use of these cancer-fighting drugs, ultimately ending in ceasing

As a preventative for
colitis, Vitamin D was chosen for further examination due to previous studies
reflecting its benefits in affecting the immune system in situations of
inflammatory bowel disease and autoimmune disorders. The scientists’ goal was
to conduct a study to observe any connection between vitamin D intake and
reduction of colitis risk for cancer patients undergoing treatment from immune
checkpoint inhibitors. 

During the study,
researchers analyzed the information from two hundred and thirteen patients with melanoma undergoing treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors
between 2011 and 2017. Thirty-one percent of, or sixty-six, patients out of the
two hundred and thirteen started on vitamin D supplements before beginning
immunotherapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors. Seventeen percent, or
thirty-seven, of the patients, experienced side effects of colitis from
treatment. The study showed that patients taking vitamin D had a sixty-five
percent lower chance of developing colitis. Researchers concluded that more
studies are necessary to explore vitamin D’s advantages further, but recent data
collection reflected a significant reduction in the chances
of provoking colitis.

About Kevin Dalby

Kevin Dalby is a professor of chemical
biology and medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, Department of
Oncology at The University of Texas in Austin.
He is a co-director of the
Texas Screening Alliance for Cancer Therapeutics, and the principal
investigator on a CPRIT grant that gives Texas scientists access to resources
for drug discovery research. By understanding cancer cell
signaling, Dr. Dalby works to improve diagnoses and utilize technological
advances to develop targeted pharmaceuticals for different cancers.