Medical

Cancer cells' stealth mechanism uncovered

Cancer cells' stealth mechanis...
New research means cancer has nowhere to hide
New research means cancer has nowhere to hide
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New research means cancer has nowhere to hide
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New research means cancer has nowhere to hide

When a malignant tumor invades the body, immune cells rush to the site to begin to fight it. When that same tumor spreads throughout the body, however, the cancer cells become invisible to our immune systems and can metastasize unencumbered by our natural defenses. Researchers out of the University of British Columbia (UBC) are on to cancer's tricky cloaking mechanism though, and their discovery could lead to new approaches to attacking the disease.

"We discovered a new mechanism that explains how metastatic tumours can outsmart the immune system and we have begun to reverse this process so tumours are revealed to the immune system once again," said Wilfred Jefferies, senior author of a new study in Scientific Reports and a professor of medical genetics and microbiology and immunology at UBC.

The discovery hinges on a protein called interleukein-33, or IL-33 that's present in primary tumors. When the tumors emit this protein, it causes another protein complex known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) to activate, which tags the cancer cells as a bad presence in the body and guides the immune system to get to work destroying them.

The researchers found that as cancer cells evolve, however, they might lose the ability to produce IL-33 which, in effect, allows them to spread throughout the body without alerting the immune system to their presence. They found that the loss of IL-33 was present in cancers that start on the lining of major organs such as the prostate, kidney, lungs and pancreas, known as epithelial carcinomas.

In the study, when IL-33 was reintroduced to metastatic cancers, it was found that the immune system was able to spot them once again.

While the research was done on prostate and kidney cancer patients, the hope is that testing for IL-33 could at least help doctors monitor the progression of these and other kinds of cancer, and at best, lead to new treatment options.

Enlisting the body's own defenses against cancer is currently one of the most promising approaches to defeating the disease, with talk of a vaccine just beginning to take hold. Knocking out cancer's "invisibility cloak" would certainly be a valuable adjunct to approaches that rely on the immune system to spot and destroy the deadly cells.

Source: UBC

9 comments
habakak
It is never this easy. We will inevitably find that there are ways for cancer to hide too. But hopefully with faster and cheaper sequencers we can find all relevant proteins and unmask them to the immune system. And they will evolve and adapt, and hopefully we can keep up. But this seems like good news and once again delivers some much wanted hope.
Imran Sheikh
What an amazing Discovery.. "Now This Is True Science", & there is one more field where this discovery will help as amazingly as fighting cancer. and thats in the field of "ORGAN and LIMBS Transplant", and what they need is to work in reverse. and thusly we will have No Rejection of Organs or Limb transplants Ever it would be like "Jailbreak or Root" to Human Body. Really Great Job Guys. __Imran Sheikh
Brian M
@habakak 'It is never this easy. ' sometimes it can be! 'they will evolve and adapt' - evolutionary processes don't apply here, they are self limiting cells (don't jump host to host). So if we can detect their uniqueness and re-activate their detection by the body then it may well be game over for that specific cancer!
Nik
My questions. If a malignant tumour invades a body, and then kills its host, where is the benefit for the organism, how does it spread to other hosts? What does the invading? If prevention is better than a cure, wouldn't, finding the invading organism be a major step in eradication?
Mzungu_Mkubwa
@Nik: Cancer is not an "invading body" like one might consider a virus or bacteria to be. Cancer is the cells within a body that have mutated in such a way as to become a detriment to the healthy cells around them. These tend to take on the characteristics of self-preservation and distribution that we normally attribute to invasive organisms, and thus blur the picture in our impressions when going on the defensive.
Wolf0579
As long as there is profit to be made "managing" cancer, curing it will never be on the table. We in the western world need to remove ALL PROFIT MOTIVE FROM HUMAN MEDICINE, and get back to curing illness, instead of "managing" it.
habakak
@Brian M....how do you back up 'sometimes it can be' when we have made so little progress in curing cancer? Cancer still kills more people than alcohol, tobacco or cardiac arrests in the US. You make it sound like we've got it covered. Look at how much money we spend on curing cancer, how many people still die from it and how long we have been fighting it. It's not easy. It never has. Watch 'The emperor of all maladies' and see how we have struggled against it for more than a century, and as we make inroads, how cancer fights back and win. Also, cancer is mutations of your own bodily cells. Since when do our bodies NOT EVOLVE? All sorts of different cancers ARE WELL KNOW TO MUTATE. Since when are our cells 'self-limiting'?
zr2s10
I have passed this onto a friend. Her husband is fighting this right now, and he's not doing well. It may be too little too late, but any hope is greater than no hope. Since he is now going to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, they may be willing to try this, or already are in some cases.
ljaques
Kudos UBC and Wilfred Jeffries for the cancer breakthru. Now please give it to the public rather than patenting it. @Wolf0579: Agreed! We need to take the money out of politics and healthcare before they kill us all. If it's bought by the gov't, sold by the Pharma or MD, or labeled "healthy", it costs 5x as much as it should. DEFUND POLITICS and DEFUND HEALTHCARE and we'll all live healthier, better, and happier lives.