APR 01, 2015 08:25 AM PDT

How Immune Cells Facilitate the Spread of Breast Cancer

The body's immune system fights disease, infections and even cancer, acting like foot soldiers to protect against invaders and dissenters. But it turns out the immune system has traitors among its ranks. Dr. Karin de Visser and her team at the Netherlands Cancer Institute discovered that certain immune cells are persuaded by breast tumors to facilitate the spread of cancer cells. Their findings are published advanced online on March 30 in the journal Nature.
A few years ago, it was reported that breast cancer patients with a high number of immune cells called neutrophils in their blood are at increased risk of developing metastases.
In Western countries about one in eight women will develop breast cancer. Of the women who die of this disease, 90 percent dies because the cancer has spread to other parts of their body and formed metastases. For this reason, cancer researchers are trying to understand how the process of metastasis occurs. A few years ago, it was reported that breast cancer patients with a high number of immune cells called neutrophils in their blood are at increased risk of developing metastases. Immune cells are supposed to protect our body. So why are high neutrophil levels linked to worse outcome in women with breast cancer?

Dr. Karin de Visser, group leader at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, and her team discovered that certain types of breast tumors cause a domino effect of reactions within the immune system. The tumor sends out signaling molecules that through a number of steps cause the immune system to produce lots of neutrophils. This normally happens as part of an inflammatory reaction, but the neutrophils that are activated by the tumor behave differently. It turns out they are able to block the actions of other immune cells, called T cells. T cells are the cells that can (sometimes) recognize and kill cancer cells.

De Visser and her team went on to discover that a signaling protein called interleukin 17 (or IL17) is important for this process. "We saw in our experiments that IL17 is crucial for the increased production of neutrophils", says De Visser. "And not only that, it turns out that this is also the molecule that changes the behavior of the neutrophils, causing them to become T cell inhibitory."

The first author of the paper in Nature, postdoctoral researcher Seth Coffelt, showed the importance of the IL17-neutrophil pathway by inhibiting this pathway in a mouse model that mimics human breast cancer metastasis. When neutrophils were inhibited, the animals developed much less metastases than animals from the control group, in which the IL17-neutrophil route was not inhibited. "What's notable is that blocking the IL17-neutrophil route prevented the development of metastases, but did not affect the primary tumor," De Visser comments. "So this could be a promising strategy to prevent the tumor from spreading."

Since neutrophils are important to protect us from infections, drugs that inhibit neutrophils would make patients susceptible to all kinds of infections. Inhibition of IL17 might be a safer strategy. In fact, drugs that do so already exist. Anti-IL17 drugs are currently being tested in clinical trials as a treatment for inflammatory diseases, like psoriasis and rheumatism. Last month, the first anti-IL17 based therapy for psoriasis patients was approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA). "It would be very interesting to investigate whether these already existing drugs are beneficial for breast cancer patients. It may be possible to turn these traitors of the immune system back towards the good side and prevent their ability to promote breast cancer metastasis," De Visser says.

Source: Netherlands Cancer Institute
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
JUL 17, 2018
Health & Medicine
JUL 17, 2018
Can the Keto Diet Make Cancer Treatment More Effective?
It’s been said that “you are what you eat” but with so many diet plans and trends, it can be hard to choose. Paleo, keto, Mediterranean,...
JUL 17, 2018
Cancer
JUL 17, 2018
Large Multifactorial NIH Study Announced for Prostate Cancer Aggressiveness in African-American Men
The largest coordinated study on Prostate cancer aims to look at both genetic and environmental factors that lead to increased risk and cancer aggressiveness in African-American men compared...
AUG 28, 2018
Drug Discovery
AUG 28, 2018
Combination Therapy for Advanced Melonoma
According to a research study led by UCLA, a bacteria-like agent used in combination with an immunotherapeutic drug may help patients survive longer with a...
SEP 04, 2018
Cancer
SEP 04, 2018
Glyphosate "herbicides" as a carcinogen
You may have heard of glyphosate as it is a chemical that is approved to be used in herbicides. But did you know that it could lead to cancer!!...
SEP 15, 2018
Cancer
SEP 15, 2018
Undescended testicles could lead to testicular cancer and infertility in adult males
An undescended testis (cryptorchidism) is a condition in which one of the testes or both have not descended into the right position in the scrotum at birth and either stay at the abdomen or d...
OCT 31, 2018
Drug Discovery
OCT 31, 2018
New Drug Target For a Rare Lymphoma
The promise of immunotherapy in oncology is stronger than ever. Now, an international team of scientists and physicians from the Research Institute of the ...
Loading Comments...