For decades, scientists have known that certain types of cells can transform into cancer-killing machines. Now, researchers have begun to unravel how this process works and how it might be harnessed to fight malignant tumors.
When cells in the body sense that something is amiss, they send out signals that summon help. These signals attract immune cells, which then swarm to the site of the injury or infection.
In some cases, the immune cells don’t just clean up the mess; they also kill any abnormal cells that they find. This process, called immunosurveillance, is thought to be a key way that the body keeps cancer in check.
But sometimes, cancer cells find a way to evade immunosurveillance. They manage to grow and spread, unchecked by the body’s defenses.
Now, researchers are beginning to understand how immunosurveillance works, and how cancer cells evade it. They hope that this knowledge will lead to new ways to treat cancer.
Immunosurveillance is carried out by a type of white blood cell known as a natural killer (NK) cell. NK cells are constantly on the lookout for abnormal cells, such as cancer cells.
When they find these cells, they kill them. NK cells do this by releasing substances that puncture the cancer cells’ membranes, causing them to burst.
NK cells also release substances that attract other immune cells to the site of the cancer cell. These immune cells then help to kill the cancer cell.
Cancer cells can evade immunosurveillance in a number of ways. One way is by creating a “shield” that protects them from NK cells.
Another way is by hiding from NK cells. Cancer cells do this by releasing substances that keep NK cells at bay.
A third way is by changing the way they look. Cancer cells can make themselves look like normal cells, so NK cells don’t recognize them as being abnormal.
Now that scientists are beginning to understand how immunosurveillance works, they are working on ways to harness it to fight cancer.
One approach is to find a way to boost the activity of NK cells. This could be done with drugs or with vaccines.
Another approach is to find a way to make cancer cells more visible to NK cells. This could be done by engineering cancer cells to express a protein that is normally only found on the surface of viruses.
A third approach is to find a way to stop cancer cells from evading immunosurveillance. This could be done with drugs that block the molecules that cancer cells use to hide from NK cells.
All of these approaches are still in the early stages of development. But if they are successful, they could lead to new and better ways to treat cancer.
The body is constantly under attack from outside forces, including viruses and bacteria. To fight back, the immune system uses a variety of cells and proteins. But when it comes to certain types of cancer, the immune system can be hijacked and actually help the tumor to grow.
Now, researchers have found a way to reverse this process and stop tumors in their tracks. The key is to harness the power of neighboring cells.
When a tumor is growing, the nearby normal cells are constantly bombarded with signals from the tumor. These signals can cause the normal cells to become “inactivated” and unable to fight back.
The researchers found that by targeting a specific protein in the normal cells, they could “reactivate” them and turn them into a powerful force against the tumor. In laboratory tests, this approach was able to make aggressive tumors benign.
The findings could have important implications for the treatment of cancer, and the researchers are already working on a clinical trial to test the approach in humans.
If successful, this could provide a new way to treat cancer that is less invasive and more effective than current therapies.