In a recent study published in Cell Metabolism, researchers found that trained immune cells that ruthlessly kill cancerous tumors may prove a game-changer for people living with late-stage cancer.
They uncovered that changing the metabolism of natural killer (NK) immune cells allows these cells to overcome the hostile conditions found inside tumors and destroy advanced ovarian and lung cancer.
The study is from McMaster University. One author is Ali Ashkar.
In the past decade, cancer immunotherapy has achieved tremendous effects in patients with blood cancers.
However, the immunosuppressive conditions found inside solid tumors, whose aggressive growth starves surrounding healthy tissues of energy, have until now remained a formidable barrier for immune cell therapies.
In this study, the team discovered that the metabolism, or energy ‘hub,’ of NK cells is paralyzed by tumors, causing the NK cells to undergo an energy crisis and lose their tumor-killing functions.
With that understanding, they were able to reverse the dysfunction of NK cells by repurposing a pre-existing metabolism drug that restored their energy production.
While these findings answered the decades-old question of how it is that NK cells are suppressed by tumors, the study has another major discovery.
The team additionally discovered that NK cells can be modified to mimic the metabolism of tumors. The modified NK cells proved to be far better adapted for the hostile tumor environment.
This is the first report of an anti-tumor immune cell that exploits the hostility of tumors for their own advantage.
So far, NK cells have only proven effective against blood cancers. The re-programmed and trained NK cells could mean patients with otherwise terminal cancers may have a safe and effective treatment option.
Lung and ovarian cancer are two examples of cancers whose survival rates have remained low over the last 30 or so years.
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