How Your Immune System Can Fight Cancer | Stories | PerkinElmer
Cookies on PerkinElmer
PerkinElmer uses cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience possible on our website. This may include cookies from third party websites. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you consent to receive cookies from this website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. To learn more, please review our cookie policy, which includes information on how to manage your cookies.

How Your Immune System Can Fight Cancer

January 08, 2016

How Your Immune System Can Fight Cancer


When former U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced he had brain cancer in August of 2015, few of us realized that the 91-year-old former president was about to become a pioneer. Facing the ravages of advanced melanoma, Mr. Carter agreed to a new multidisciplinary approach to treating his disease. It involved surgery, radiation, and the infusion of a breakthrough drug called pembrolizumab, better known as Keytruda. The drug is one of the first immunotherapy treatments approved by the FDA to treat melanoma in patients who have exhausted all other options. 1

On December 6, 2015, the former president again took to the podium with equally shocking news: the cancer that had spread from his liver to his brain only four months earlier was now completely gone. He said he would continue receiving regular immunotherapy treatments using pembrolizumab, The New York Times reported. 2 

According to leading oncologists, President Carter’s experience may well be the future of cancer treatment.  The immune system’s natural capacity to detect and destroy abnormal cells may prevent the development of many cancers. However, cancer cells are sometimes able to avoid detection and destruction by the immune system and are able to grow into tumors. In the past few years, the rapidly advancing field of cancer immunology has produced several new methods of treating cancer, called immunotherapies, which increase the strength of immune responses against tumors. Immunotherapies either stimulate the activities of specific components of the immune system or counteract signals produced by cancer cells that suppress immune responses.

President Carter’s remarkable recovery, it turns out, is more the exception than the rule. Pembrolizumab, for example, is effective in only about a third of the patients receiving the drug. Even more perplexing, no one really knows why it works on some patients and not others. 3 There is also ongoing research into tumor- infiltrating lymphocytes TILs, themselves. Among their most frustrating attributes is the fact that they come in many different varieties, some that suppress an immune response, some which aide it and they are all hard to differentiate using standard histopathology methods. That makes their assessment and quantification in tissue samples, which are essential in understanding the immune response in situ in solid tissues, both difficult to achieve and far more prone to human error. 4 Fortunately, there is promising news on that front that could well revolutionize the field of immunotherapy.

Seeing is Believing

For scientists like Dr. Paul Tumeh of the University of California, Los Angeles, developing a deeper understanding of how and why TILs do what they do begins with finding a better means to see and analyze them in the first place. To that end, Dr. Tumeh and his colleagues have been working with scientists at PerkinElmer, a global leader in human and environmental health solutions. Their collaboration has led to a novel solution that allows researchers for the first time to more closely examine the density, location, and spatial relationships of multiple immune cell types in situ, and how they relate to each other and to the tumor. “Spatially resolved information is the next frontier of how we interrogate and understand the immune system’s response to cancer,” Dr. Tumeh says. 5

Enter Phenoptics

In a word, Dr. Tumeh is referring to the benefits that are now offered through PerkinElmer’s revolutionary new Phenoptics Research Solutions for Cancer Immunology & Immunotherapy. What is Phenoptics analysis? Based on the Greek “phenol”—meaning to shine and “optos,” meaning to see—PerkinElmer’s Phenoptics methodology includes advanced tissue staining agents, such as the  Opal Multiplex IHC kits; groundbreaking multispectral imaging instrumentation, including the new Vectra® 3 and Mantra systems; and inForm® image analysis software for cellular phenotyping. Phenoptics analysis is analogous to flow cytometry, delivering per-cell phenotypic information using up to six markers simultaneously. The difference is Phenoptics analysis is performed on tissue sections in a specialized microscope system, and generates a map of where the immune cells are relative to each other and to the tumor.

Taken together, PerkinElmer’s new Phenoptics portfolio allows research scientists to detect, measure, visualize, and compare multiple immune-cell phenotypes simultaneously in Formalin-Fixed, Paraffin-Embedded (FFPE tissue sections – all in the same tumor and its microenvironment, says James Mansfield, Global Head of Imaging, Quantitative Pathology Solutions, at PerkinElmer. “For research, we believe Phenoptics analysis will become the standard for analyzing cells in situ in solid tumors,” Mansfield says. What was once considered the future is now the new reality—brought to you by PerkinElmer.

Phenoptics Research Solutions is For Research Use Only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.


  1. Brady Dennis, “The ‘breakthrough’ Drug Jimmy Carter is Taking to Treat His Cancer,” The Washington Post, August 20, 2015.
  2. Ashley Southall, “Former President Jimmy Carter Says He Is Free of Cancer, The New York Times, December 6, 2013.
  3. Dennis, op. cit.
  4. Marcia McNutt, ed., “Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy.” Special Issue. Science, April 3, 2015, pp. 54 – 86.
  5. The Scientist Staff, “Top 10 Innovations 2015,” The Scientist, December 1, 2015.

Read More Stories Like This One

Shelf Life: Take Control of Stability Testing

Typically, both drug substance and drug product are tested in at least two different storage conditions: long term ambient storage temperature and accelerated co...

GMP Compliance in QC Labs: It Takes a Village

Meeting standards for Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliance is increasingly difficult for pharma labs. Regulatory bodies around the globe enforce these st...