Return to site

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

Originally published on

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 treatment.

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

Dr. 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.