FAU News

Using Vitamin D in cancer treatment

r. Heiko Bruns, researcher at the Department of Medicine 5 at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen (Image: Universitätsklinikum Erlangen)

Study demonstrates efficacy of vitamin D supplements for patients with lymphoma

Vitamin D has long been known to help fight infections. Researchers at FAU, in collaboration with colleagues from Aachen, Homburg and Cologne, have now shown how vitamin D could improve treatment for patients with lymphoma significantly. The results of a translational study led by the Department of Medicine 5 – Haematology and Oncology (head of department: Prof. Dr. Andreas Mackensen) at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen were published in the renowned journal Science Translational Medicine on 8 April 2015.

Patients with lymphoma often have low levels of vitamin D. It has already been shown in a clinical trial carried out last year that low levels of vitamin D weaken the efficacy of antibody therapy which, along with chemotherapy, is a standard form of treatment. Researchers at FAU and Universitätsklinikum Erlangen have now discovered why this is and how increasing the vitamin D levels in conjunction with antibody therapy can activate the body’s own defences in order to fight tumour cells. ‘Vitamin D provides the body’s phagocytes which are surrounded by cancer cells with the ammunition to effectively eliminate the tumour from the inside,’ says Dr. Heiko Bruns, a researcher at the Department of Medicine 5 at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen.

In lymphoma, the immune system’s cells are degenerate. However, these tumours contain a large number of healthy phagocytes called macrophages. The defence mechanisms of the macrophages – which, as a type of phagocyte, are supposed to fight harmful cells and pathogens such as bacteria – are shut down by the cancer cells. ‘Although the macrophages are there in the tumour tissue, they are not able to carry out their function because they lack a necessary protein,’ explains Dr. Bruns. Vitamin D stimulates the production of the missing protein cathelicidin, activating the macrophages to fight the cancer cells. ‘Vitamin D certainly helps as part of a cancer treatment plan, but it is not a cure on its own,’ warns Prof. Dr. Armin Gerbitz (Oberarzt), a doctor at the Department of Medicine 5 at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, who was one of the authors of the study. Further trials will now test how effective vitamin D supplements are in the treatment of other types of cancer.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Andreas Mackensen
Phone: +49 9131 8535955

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