September 23, 2020

Researchers fight cancer with immune system boost


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The American research team is working on safely and effectively firing up the body’s immune system so it will attack cancer.

PHILADELPHIA, United States, – Turning the power of the human immune system against cancer is a field of research currently occupying the attention of many scientists around the world.

But until now, finding a way of boosting the body’s immune system in order to attack cancer without damaging other tissues has proved elusive.

Nature maintains a delicate balance with the immune system so that it attacks invaders but not the body’s own tissues. But when this balance fails, there are many diseases – from multiple sclerosis (MS) to type 1 diabetes – caused by the immune system turning on the tissues.

Researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, whose findings were published in Nature Medicine, have now said that animal studies suggested that shifting the balance could open up new treatments for cancer.

One area of research in both cancer and autoimmune diseases has been Treg cells, a part of the immune system that normally tones everything down to prevent the immune system from attacking healthy tissues in the body.

The American researchers were focusing on disrupting Treg’s function, effectively removing the immune system’s restraints, so it could attack cancer.

“We needed to find a way to reduce Treg function in a way that permits antitumor activity without allowing autoimmune reactions,” explained one of the Philadelphia researchers, Dr Wayne Hancock.

The research team bred mice that lacked a chemical needed for Tregs to work effectively. They then used a drug which produced the same effect in normal mice. In both experiments, the shift in the immune system restricted the growth of a type of lung cancer.

“It really moves the field along towards a potentially major, new cancer immunotherapy,” Dr Hancock said.

The research is nevertheless said to be still at an early stage and a long way from a treatment for patients with cancer.

Further tests to determine if the same processes can be manipulated in the human immune system are needed before it could even be tested in clinical trials.

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