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Israel Tel Aviv -Could Cancer Be Turned Against Itself?
Tel Aviv U researchers say melanoma's proteins could kill cancerous cells
Thanks to the work of a Professor at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Neurobiology, it seems that a small group of proteins that contributes to human cancers may also be able to alert our immune system to their presence.
This important, and potentially life-saving discovery was made by Prof. Yoel Kloog, along with Dr. Itamar Goldstein of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Sheba Medical Center and their students Helly Vernitsky and Dr. Oded Rechavi, who discovered that these proteins, known as oncogenic Ras, are detected in one-third of all tumours, and actually allows the rapid growth of diseased cells.
Now, for the first time, these TAU researchers have shown the transfer of oncogenic Ras in human cells from melanoma cells to T cells, which belong to a group of white blood cells that are part of the immune system. This transfer allows the immune cells to gather crucial intelligence on what they are fighting and develop the necessary cytokines, or signalling molecules, to kill the melanoma cells.
Prof. Kloog suggests that a drug that enhances the transfer of the oncogene from the tumour to the immune cells is a potential therapy to augment the anti-cancer immune response. This research has been published in the Journal of Immunology.
In the lab, researchers incubated T-cells from patients with human melanoma cells that had originated from tumours to track the process of handing-off various proteins. They uncovered a circuit that runs between the cancer and immune cells. Once the melanoma cells pass oncogenic Ras to the T-cells, the T-cells are activated and begin to produce cytokines, which enhances their capacity to kill cancer cells.
As these melanoma cells pass along the mutated Ras, the immune cells become increasingly active. Eventually, enough oncogenic material is transferred across the immune cells' threshold, causing the T-cells to act on the melanoma cells from which the oncogenic Ras was derived. Ultimately, this transfer tips the scales in favour of the immune cells, the researchers say.
The next step is to develop a therapy that can enhance the transfer in patients with cancers linked to oncogenic Ras, says Prof. Kloog. And although their research has so far focused on melanoma, which is known to elicit the response of the immune system, he believes that this finding could be applicable to other types of cancers.
There is a constant balancing act between cancer cells and the immune system, says Dr. Goldstein. Under normal circumstances, the immune system will kill some cancerous cells on a daily basis. The disease becomes critical when the immune system can no longer keep cancer cells in check. Although there are many theories as to how cancer cells break free of this cycle, scientists are still attempting to discover why this occurs.
Prof. Kloog and Dr. Goldstein hope that this research leads to a better understanding of how the immune system fights tumours. "It's a part of the interaction between cancer and the immune system that is not well known," says Dr. Goldstein. "We are trying to gather more comprehensive data on all the proteins that are being passed around, and how this information impacts the immune system's response to cancer."