Donor Immune Cells Fight Patient Cancer.


In a new study published recently in the journal Science researchers concluded that even if one’s own immune cells cannot recognize and fight their tumors, someone else’s immune cells might. By adding mutated DNA from cancer cells into immune stimulating cells from healthy donors an immune response was created in the healthy immune cells. Then by inserting the donor immune cells back into the immune cells of patients, researchers were able to make cancer patients own immune cells recognize cancer cells.

Two major reasons that immune cells do not control cancer cells are: 1) activity of immune cells is controlled by many “brakes” that can interfere with their function, and research is now looking at ways to inactivate these brakes. and 2) In some patients, immune cells may not recognize the cancer cells as foreign so helping immune cells recognize cancer is one of the focuses of immunotherapy.

Normally aberrant cells are recognized by immune cells called T cells, that scan the surface of other cells, to check whether they display any protein fragments oj their surface that should not be there. When they recognize this foreign protein fragments, T cells kill the aberrant cells including cancer cells. Researchers first wanted to determine whether T cells of a patient react to all foreign protein fragments on cancer cells and consequently mapped all possible foreign protein fragments (neo-antigens) on the surface of melanoma cells from three different patients. In all 3 patients, the cancer cells seemed to display a large number of different neo-antigens. However, when researchers tried to match these to the T cells derived from within the patient’s tumors, most of the aberrant protein fragments on the tumor cells were unnoticed.

Researchers were then interested in determining whether a borrowed immune system could see the cancer cells of the patient as aberrant. They used the T cells from healthy volunteers to see if they would locate the neo-antigens. They found that the borrowed T cells could detect a significant number of the neo-antigens that had not been seen by the patients T cells. Researchers said ” In a way, our findings show that the immune response in cancer patients can be strengthened; there is more on the cancer cells that make them foreign that we can exploit. ”  Researchers conclude that their research showed that the principle of outsourcing cancer immunity to a donor is sound. However, more work needs to be done before patients will benefit from this approach.

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