New treatment “remembers” tumors and hinders growth

Cancer is among the deadliest diseases known to mankind. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 1,685,210 new cancer cases would have been diagnosed in the United States in 2016, while an alarming 595,690 individuals would have perished from the disease. What makes this disease so deadly?

How cancer works

The immune system acts as the body’s first line of defense against harmful organisms. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the immune system neutralizes “pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi that have entered the body.” These harmful organisms are removed from the body. Similarly, the immune system is also supposed to fight against the body’s cells that have been mutated because of an illness, such as in the case of cancers.

The body is designed in such a way that a number of cells die and are replaced on a daily basis. In instances of cancer however, these malignant cells do not die off. Instead, they can spread the infection to the rest of the body, which leads to more serious cases of cancer.

Now, in theory, the immune system fights off these cancerous cells. However, there are many instances wherein the immune system is not strong enough to fight off the health invaders. Certain cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can compromise the strength of the immune system. As a result, its ability to fight back the cells is diminished. At times, the cancer can even trick the immune system into thinking that the malignant cells are normal and are therefore best left alone.

A scientific breakthrough

Thankfully, there is a promising treatment that was published in the journal Science Immunology that can help the immune system “remember” the cancer cells and identify them before they can spread to the rest of the body.

As the study explains, cancer significantly affects the body. One of these compromised parts of the body is the CD4+ T regulatory (Treg) cell, which often tells the immune system to ignore the cancer. Researchers are interested to know if by hacking the Treg cell, they could entice the immune system to go against the cancer cells.

To do this, the researchers tapped the help of the antibody latency-associated peptide (LAP). They created anti-LAP antibodies that targeted Treg cells. The Treg cells were then shut down, so that the immune system could, therefore, do its function and attack the cancerous cells.

The results were staggering, to say the very least. Subjects with anti-LAP antibodies had reduced number of cancerous cells and Treg cells. Furthermore, even if the subjects were injected directly with cancerous cells, the tumors wouldn’t grow at all.

This led the researchers to come to the conclusion that the antibodies were able to remember the makeup of cancer cells, and were able to eradicate them before they can be implanted in the body. As a result, the cancer, therefore, wouldn’t grow.

Now, a word of caution. Before everyone could get excited about the treatment, the special protein was tested on mice with cancer cells. As it goes without saying, the mice’s genetic makeup is significantly different from that of a human’s. However, the study is able to provide a glimpse of a future, where treatment can potentially identify cancer cells and prohibit them from growing.