Researchers Develop New Way To Fight Cancer Using The Immune System

Researchers Develop New Way To Fight Cancer Using The Immune System

New research may have found a way to fight back against cancer cells using our own immune systems. According to Medical News Today, researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, may have designed a chemical structure called a supramolecule to block cancer cells’ “don’t eat me” signal to the body’s immune system.

The study, led by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst assistant professor Ashish Kulkarni, was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering on Monday, July 2. Researchers tested the supramolecule on mice modeled after aggressive skin and breast cancer.

Kulkarni and researchers compared the supramolecule to existing cancer medicines. By day 10 of the study, the untreated mice had developed large malignant tumors.

Mice that were treated with existing cancer-fighting medication showed signs of smaller tumors. And those that were treated with the researchers’ supramolecule showed a complete stop to tumor growth.

“We [could] actually see macrophages eating cancer sells,” said Shiladitya Sengupta, one of the co-authors of the study. In various microscopy images published with the paper, the mice’s immune system is shown engulfing the cancer cells.

The supramolecule works by helping the body’s macrophages. Macrophages are the largest immune cells in our bodies. Their name comes from the Greek word meaning “big eaters.”

Macrophages serve as the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses when they’ve entered the body. They’re also a key part of the body’s defense against cancer.

Macrophages come in two types, M1 and M2. M1 macrophages are what tell the rest of your immune system to activate and begin fighting against invading bacteria. The M2 macrophages are the cells that help control your body’s inflammation during the bacteria-fighting process.

It’s difficult for the immune system to fight back against cancer because of the malignant cells’ ability to trick the macrophages. Malignant cells are able to produce a type of “don’t eat me” signal. This tells the M1 macrophages that they’re not dangerous and need to be left alone.

Additionally, cancer is able to turn M1 macrophages into the more-peaceful M2s. This reduces the risk of the cancer cells being spotted by your immune system, allowing them to grow like a virus.

Kulkarni, Sengupta, and other researchers designed the supramolecule to block the malignant cells’ “don’t eat me” signal. This helps to keep cancer from going undetected by the body’s M1s.

The supramolecule is also able to prevent the cancer cells from turning the M1s into M2s. This keeps the body in defense mode against the dangerous cancer cells.

The researchers plan to replicate their findings in additional preclinical studies. The goal is to test the supramolecule for its safety, effectiveness, and necessary dosage before moving onto clinical trials.

If the supramolecule treatment is effective, it could help to combat cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body.

It could also potentially help reduce the number of people affected by the nation’s current opioid epidemic by reducing the inflammation and therefore the chronic pain caused by cancer. Four in every five new heroin users say they began by misusing prescription painkillers.

But until the supramolecule has been proven safe and effective, early detection of cancer is still essential. A positive PSA test alone is estimated to save one to two lives per every 1,000 men who take the test. Annual screening for breast cancer has also proven to reduce mortality in women by 39.6%.

“[A] combination immunotherapy, such as blocking two distinct targets in the same immune cell, is the future of immuno-oncology,” said Kulkarni. “Our approach capitalizes on this concept.”

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