A new type of cancer immunotherapy is being studied.
Basic research into the dual nature of certain immune system cells has set the stage for a new approach to cancer immunotherapy that avoids some of the shortcomings associated with other methods, scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report in a new study in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The new approach incites an immune system attack on tumors by changing the very identity of key immune system cells dispersed throughout the tumor. These cells, known as T regulatory (Treg) cells, ordinarily prevent their more combative cousins, known as T effector (or Teff) cells, from attacking the tumor. The researchers showed that eliminating a key protein in Tregs makes the Tregs so unstable that they become Teffs and join in the destruction of the tumor.
Critically, the study authors show that conversion from Treg to Teff occurs only in the inflammatory conditions that prevail within many tumors. As a result, Tregs embedded in normal tissue throughout the body continue to have a restraining effect on their local Teffs, protecting healthy organs and tissues from attack. This raises the prospect of therapies that concentrate the immune system’s firepower on tumors without producing residual damage and harmful side effects.
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