Cancer can be killed by body's own immune system, new study claims

Washington: A new way to help the body's immune system get past that deception and destroy cancer, has been found by a University of Missouri researcher. "Normally, your body's immune cells are constantly on patrol to identify and destroy foreign entities in the body," said Yves Chabu, an assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences.

"Normal cells put up a 'don't-eat-me' molecular flag that is recognized by immune cells, thereby preventing the destruction of normal tissues. But some cancers have also developed the ability to mimic normal cells and produce this 'don't eat me' signal. As a consequence, the immune system fails to recognise cancer as a defective tissue and leaves it alone, which is bad news for the patient," added Chabu.

Immunotherapies are cancer drugs that essentially block the "don't-eat-me" signal coming from cancer and allow the immune-system to kill it. Chabu, whose appointment is in the College of Arts and Science, said while these immunotherapies work for certain types of cancers, prostate cancer is highly immunosuppressive, meaning the cancer's physical and molecular environments simply overpower the body's immune system.

But Chabu might have unlocked a solution with help from a more than 50-year-old strain of bacteria. "Cancers are different in one individual to the next, even when they affect the same tissue. These interpersonal differences contribute to whether or not a particular therapy will effectively kill the cancer and help the patient. The bacteria itself is genetically pliable, therefore it can be genetically modified to overcome patient-specific therapeutic limits," Chabu said.

"Imagine a patient whose cancer isn't responding to traditional therapies and has no other treatment options. One can envision genetically modifying the bacteria such that it can unload therapeutics that specifically exploit that cancer's unique vulnerabilities and kill it," added Chabu.

Highlighting the promise of personalised health care and the impact of large-scale interdisciplinary collaboration, the University of Missouri System's NextGen Precision Health initiative is bringing together innovators from across the system's four research universities in pursuit of life-changing precision health advancements.

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