A strong immune system is essential for warding off the many illnesses that we come in contact with on a day to day basis, but what if giving it a boost could help to fight cancer? New studies on animals suggest that shifting the delicate immune system balance could actually open the avenue for new cancer treatment. The research team, from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, has published their findings in Nature Medicine.
It isn’t entirely unusual for the immune system to attack the body. They are called autoimmune diseases and they include multiple sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few. Treg cells are one branch of research when it comes to cancer and autoimmune disease research, and, in this case, these cells may hold the key to fighting cancer.
Treg cells belong with the immune system. They usually work to keep things calm to help prevent the immune system from attacking healthy cells in the body. When researchers began to work to disrupt the function of the Treg cell function, to essentially remove the Treg cells’ safety switch, they found that the immune system began to attack cancer cells.
Dr. Wayne Hancock, one of the researchers with the study has said that the team needed to find a way to reduce the function of Treg cells in ways that allow antitumor activity, but doesn’t allow for autoimmune reactions.
The scientists bred mice that lacked the chemical necessary for Treg cells to work the way they were meant to. Then, they used a medication that produced similar effects in “normal” mice. Both of the studies found that changing the immune system slowed and stopped the growth of one type of lung cancer. Dr. Hancock has said that this research is going to help taking cancer research to a new level and may help to provide a new cancer immunotherapy.
It’s essential not to get too excited just yet, though because the findings are still a long way from being usable for patients that currently have cancer. There will be the need for further testing to determine if the same effects can be found in human immune systems before it could even be used for clinical trials.
Dr. Emma Smith is with Cancer Research UK. She has said that the study does look promising, and many scientists around the globe are currently searching for a way to harness the power of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. The key is to find a way to make it happen without allowing the immune system to destroy the whole body.