MAR 06, 2015 4:16 PM PST

Mouse Study Finds Extra Oxygen May Spur Tumor-Fighting Cells

WRITTEN BY: Ilene Schneider
A provocative study in mice suggests something as simple as breathing in extra oxygen might give immune cells a boost in attacking cancer.

The immune system often can spot and destroy abnormal cells before they grow into cancer. But when tumors manage to take root, they put up defenses to block new immune attacks. Wednesday's study takes aim at one of those shields.

With the extra oxygen, "you remove the brake pedal" that cancer can put on tumor-fighting immune cells, said Michail Sitkovsky, director of the New England Inflammation and Tissue Protection Institute at Northeastern University, who led the work.

Here's what happens: Tumors can grow so rapidly that they outpace their blood supply, creating a low-oxygen environment. The lack of oxygen in turn spurs cancer cells to produce a molecule called adenosine, which essentially puts nearby tumor fighters called T cells and natural killer cells to sleep, explained pharmacologist Edwin Jackson of the University of Pittsburgh, who co-authored the study.

Lots of research is under way to develop drugs that could block the adenosine effect. But Sitkovsky's team wondered if just getting more oxygen to an oxygen-starved tumor could strip away that defense.

So they put mice with different kinds of lung tumors inside chambers that mimic what's called supplemental oxygen therapy. Air is about 21 percent oxygen, but hospitals can give patients concentrations of 40 percent to 60 percent oxygen through masks to treat various disorders.

The extra oxygen changed the tumor's environment so that immune cells could get inside and do their jobs, the researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Tumors shrank more in the high-oxygen group, especially when the researchers combined the oxygen with injections of extra tumor-fighting T cells, what's called immunotherapy. Extra oxygen had no effect in mice genetically engineered to lack those immune cells. Immunotherapy is a hot field in cancer research, as scientists try to figure out how to spur the body's own ability to fight tumors.

The study is exciting, said immunologist Susanna Greer of the American Cancer Society, who wasn't involved with the research and cautioned that it must be tested in people.

"If this works, there is the potential that what they're doing could very easily synergize with other cancer immunotherapies that we know work," she said.

"The beauty is that oxygen per se is so well-tolerated," added Dr. Holger Eltzschig, an anesthesiologist at the University of Colorado in Denver who studies low-oxygen effects and also wasn't involved in Wednesday's study.

He said the data was compelling enough to start testing the approach by adding supplemental oxygen to certain cancer therapies.

Source: Associated Press
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
You May Also Like
JAN 02, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 02, 2020
Mysterious Extrachromosomal DNA is Linked to Childhood Cancer
Scientists are learning more about an unusual kind of DNA that's separate from a cell's genomic DNA....
JAN 20, 2020
JAN 20, 2020
Ovarian Cancer Protein Accelerates Alzheimer's Neurodegeneration
Around 21,000 people in the US are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, while an estimated 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. Now, research...
JAN 22, 2020
JAN 22, 2020
How the VISTA molecule affects immune responses
A new study describes how a molecule named VISTA has been impeding immune responses in cancer therapies. By turning this molecule “off,” resear...
JAN 26, 2020
JAN 26, 2020
Tumor-Highlighting Technology--Lights up Cells!
At the 56th Annual Meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons, researchers announced the groundbreaking technology that can help enhance the visualization...
FEB 02, 2020
FEB 02, 2020
These cosmetics damage breast cells' DNA
A new approach to studying the effects of two common chemicals used in cosmetics and sunscreens found they can cause DNA damage in breast cells at surprisi...
FEB 16, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
FEB 16, 2020
Growing Cells on Scaffolding as an Alternative to Animal Models
Researchers may have just made it easier for investigators to switch to an engineered model and replace their animal colonies with electrospun synthetics....
Loading Comments...