Interleukin-2: Old and New Approaches to Enhance Immune-Therapeutic Efficacy

  • Pooja Dhupkar
  • Nancy Gordon
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 995)


Interleukin-2 (IL-2) is a very well-known cytokine that has been studied for the past 35 years. It plays a major role in the growth and proliferation of many immune cells such NK and T cells. It is an important immunotherapy cytokine for the treatment of various diseases including cancer. Systemic delivery of IL-2 has shown clinical benefit in renal cell carcinoma and melanoma patients. However, its use has been limited by the numerous toxicities encountered with the systemic delivery. Intravenous IL-2 causes the well-known “capillary leak syndrome,” or the leakage of fluid from the circulatory system to the interstitial space resulting in hypotension (low blood pressure), edema, and dyspnea that can lead to circulatory shock and eventually cardiopulmonary collapse and multiple organ failure. Due to the toxicities associated with systemic IL-2, an aerosolized delivery approach has been developed, which enables localized delivery and a higher local immune cell activation. Since proteins are absorbed via pulmonary lymphatics, after aerosol deposition in the lung, aerosol delivery provides a means to more specifically target IL-2 to the local immune system in the lungs with less systemic effects. Its benefits have extended to diseases other than cancer. Delivery of IL-2 via aerosol or as nebulized IL-2 liposomes has been previously shown to have less toxicity and higher efficacy against sarcoma lung metastases. Dogs with cancer provided a highly relevant means to determine biodistribution of aerosolized IL-2 and IL-2 liposomes. However, efficacy of single-agent IL-2 is limited. As in general, for most immune-therapies, its effect is more beneficial in the face of minimal residual disease. To overcome this limitation, combination therapies using aerosol IL-2 with adoptive transfer of T cells or NK cells have emerged.

Using a human osteosarcoma (OS) mouse model, we have demonstrated the efficacy of single-agent aerosol IL-2 and combination therapy aerosol IL-2 and NK cells or aerosol IL-2 and interleukin 11 receptor alpha-directed chimeric antigen receptor-T cells (IL-11 receptor α CAR-T cells) against OS pulmonary metastases. Combination therapy resulted in a better therapeutic effect. A Phase-I trial of aerosol IL-2 was done in Europe and proved to be safe. Others and our preclinical studies provided the basis for the development of a Phase-I aerosol IL-2 trial in our institution to include younger patients with lung metastases. OS, our disease of interest, has a peak incidence in the adolescent and young adult years. Our goal is to complete this trial in the next 2 years.

In this chapter, we summarize the different effects of IL-2 and cover the advantages of the aerosol delivery route for diseases of the lung with an emphasis on some of our most recent work using combination therapy aerosol IL-2 and NK cells for the treatment of OS lung metastases.


Aerosol IL-2 Osteosarcoma Immunotherapy Lung metastasis NK cell therapy IL-2 clinical trial 



The authors would like to acknowledge Dr. Eugenie S. Kleinerman for her continuous mentorship, encouragement, and support and Dr. Sergei R. Guma for allowing us to share some of his studies to further inform the scientific community.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Pediatrics-ResearchThe Children’s Cancer Hospital, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Experimental Therapeutics Academic ProgramThe University of Texas Health Science Center at HoustonHoustonUSA

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