FEB 27, 2017 2:18 PM PST

Cancer Hoodwinks the Immune System into Helping it Survive

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

In yet another report, researchers demonstrate the cunning capabilities of cancer cells to evade death. This time, scientists from Dublin show how cancer cells hoodwink the immune system into helping them survive, rather than destroying them.

The immune system is a complex network designed to protect us from infection and also promote wound healing. In particular, wound healing occurs when the body senses damage, which trigger a cascade of cells and proteins to the affected site. Not only do the reinforcement squad deliver extra nutrients and oxygen to the damaged cells, they also include a legion of cells whose job is to kill any foreign invaders.

But for some types of cancer, researchers observe that the normal immune response appears to be dismantled. Rather than destroying the cancer cells, the immune system seems to not even recognize that there’s injury to the healthy cells. This twisted response is why some researchers label cancer as “wounds that do not heal.”

The ability for cancer to deceive the immune system may be due to a very specific molecule, report scientists from the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin.

The key molecule in the hot seat is known as TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand or TRAIL. As the name implies, this molecule triggers apoptosis, a form of cell death. Ironically, many types of cancers have a high abundance of TRAIL molecules despite continually cheating cell death. The reason, researchers found, is that cancer has re-wired the TRAIL response.

In particular, Trinity scientists report that cancer use this molecule to send wound-healing messages from the tumor cells. This tricks the immune system into ignoring the tumor as an invader. Furthermore, the immune system ends up helping the tumor grow by sending more nutrients and oxygen to the tumor, as if the tumor was damaged tissue that needed repair.

"Understanding how cancers turn on the wound-healing response has been mysterious, so we are very excited to find that certain cancers exploit TRAIL for that purpose,” said Dr. Seamus Martin, the study’s senior author.

This mechanism may behind many cancers including breast, lung, and ovarian cancer, in which the body’s own immune system appears to aid the tumor more than the host.

“We realized over the past five to seven years that lots of immune cells don’t appear to be responding to treatment, and you say why isn’t it doing anything,” said Dr. Martin. “Basically they’re being lured in by tumors who switch on a wound healing response so the body thinks it’s healing.

“We looked at how various tumors don’t seem to die and found that they’re essentially being rewired in this way,” he explained. “It’s like if you have a light switch and it’s wrongly wired and not functioning correctly – that is similar to what we are seeing.”

The findings highlight cancer’s insidious nature. However, it also points to new avenue for therapy – one in which we attempt to turn off the TRAIL switch in cancer and allow the immune system to work as it is supposed to.

Additional sources: MNT

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
OCT 06, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Cannabis Use May Reduce Cancer Risk by 10%
OCT 06, 2020
Cannabis Use May Reduce Cancer Risk by 10%
A recent meta-analysis of 34 studies found that cannabis use may decrease one’s risk of developing certain kinds o ...
OCT 13, 2020
Immunology
Early Tips For Cell & Gene Therapy Regulatory Compliance
OCT 13, 2020
Early Tips For Cell & Gene Therapy Regulatory Compliance
Cell and gene therapies hold great promise for improved health outcomes. Now is the time to advance life-saving research ...
OCT 18, 2020
Microbiology
Mouth Microbes Play a Role in Oral Cancer Development
OCT 18, 2020
Mouth Microbes Play a Role in Oral Cancer Development
Oral hygiene is not only important for keeping teeth and gums healthy; it can also affect a person's health in general.
NOV 12, 2020
Immunology
Anti-bodies against a sugar present in meat and dairy products can increase the risk of Colorectal Cancer
NOV 12, 2020
Anti-bodies against a sugar present in meat and dairy products can increase the risk of Colorectal Cancer
Nutrition is essential to health; what we eat in our daily diet affects our overall health condition and what diseases w ...
NOV 24, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Young Inventor Creates Award-winning At-home Cancer Diagnostic
NOV 24, 2020
Young Inventor Creates Award-winning At-home Cancer Diagnostic
Getting a breast cancer diagnosis often means having to endure multiple tests, including some painful and invasive proce ...
NOV 29, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Engineering 'Smart' Cells to Kill Cancer
NOV 29, 2020
Engineering 'Smart' Cells to Kill Cancer
Cancer researchers have long been searching for a way to target cancer cells while ignoring healthy cells. A team of sci ...
Loading Comments...