Manipulating subtype of immune cells halts cancer in mice

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A step forward for cancer immunotherapy
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Researchers are working on finding ways to treat cancer by using the body’s own immune system to fight the disease. Researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have found a way using a drug to control immune function and stop cancer tumors in mice.

The finding, published in the journal "Nature Medicine," shows cells known as Foxp3+ T regulatory cells aka 'Tregs’ can be manipulated to attack cancer cells.

The immune cells are subtypes that also disrupt autoimmunity.

Dr Wayne Hancock, who led the study, says in a media release: "There's a basic paradox in immunology: why doesn't the immune system prevent cancer in the first place?"

One of the problems is that when the immune system attacks anything foreign it can also turn on itself, which is what happens with autoimmune diseases.

Hancock says it's a "delicate balancing act". The immune system should protect us but if it becomes overly aggressive the result could be become life-threatening.

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But Hancock and his team suspected the immune system could be ‘fine-tuned’ in a way to prevent autoimmunity and destroy cancer cells, leading them to focus on ‘Tregs’.

They accomplished the goal in mice by deleting an enzyme producing gene. The enzyme also controls another protein that plays a role in controlling the immune cells.

The video below gives an overview of cancer immunotherapy.

In another experiment the researchers used a drug to inhibit the enzyme instead of having to delete the gene.

Controlling the behavior of ‘Tregs’ worked to suppress tumor growth in the mice. The study authors concluded:" Collectively, these data suggest a new approach for cancer immunotherapy."

Dr. Emma Smith, senior science communications officer at Cancer Research UK, says in a statement, though the research is promising, it’s still in the early stages. “… we don't know yet whether this approach will be safe or effective in people, “ Smith said. She adds the finding is another step forward for finding ways to use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons
Rhoda Baer (Photographer)

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