New research helps explain how tumors go undetected by the body

Nov 19, 2007
New research helps explain how tumors go undetected by the body
Macrophages treated with nonregulatory T cells. Red indicates inflammatory cells. Green indicates anti-inflammatory cells. Credit: Dr. Leonie Taams, King's College London

Scientists studying how immune cells are regulated in healthy individuals, have made a key discovery in understanding why tumours may go undetected by the immune system and remain untreated by the body’s own natural defences. The findings, published online this week (between 19 - 23 November) by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could lead to new treatments for tumours.

Under normal circumstances, the immune system creates sustained inflammation around a dangerous pathogen or injury which tells the body that there is a problem. However, in the case of tumours, certain cellular mechanisms counteract inflammation which can cause the tumour to go undetected, making it even harder for the body to expel.

The researchers at King’s College London, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), discovered that regulatory T cells can reverse the role of a key immune cell called a macrophage which is normally involved in causing inflammation. Regulatory T cells are cells that regulate the immune system to stop it over-responding to every external stimulus and only deal with genuinely harmful pathogens or injuries. The research shows that they can achieve this by encouraging macrophages to instead dampen down the inflammatory response that is automatically induced by all possible threats to the body, even those that turn out to be harmless.

Dr Leonie Taams, research leader explains: “A relatively harmless stimulus, such as a small cut, will automatically be treated by the body as something dangerous and will cause macrophages to promote inflammation. We discovered that it is then the regulatory T cells’ responsibility to make the macrophages promote anti-inflammation to counteract the initial response, as it is not a real danger. This helps keep the immune system stable and prevents the body over-reacting to everything in its environment.

“However problems can occur with tumours, where many regulatory T cells promoting a strong anti-inflammatory response are present. Neutralising an inflammatory response in this scenario can cause the tumour to fall under the radar of the body's immune system and ‘trick’ it into believing that there is no problem.

“We hope to be able to use this new knowledge about the relationship between regulatory T cells and macrophages to find more effective treatments for tumours. Interestingly, we also hope to use the same knowledge to achieve the opposite result and block chronic inflammation such as that which occurs in rheumatoid arthritis.”

Source: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

Explore further: US scientists make embryonic stem cells from adult skin

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New biomedical animations make their debut

Apr 10, 2014

Three new Australian biomedical animations will debut today, showcasing a world of pulsating cells, writhing proteins and dividing DNA as they capture Australian research and bring it to life.

Nanoparticles cause cancer cells to self-destruct

Apr 03, 2014

Using magnetically controlled nanoparticles to force tumour cells to 'self-destruct' sounds like science fiction, but could be a future part of cancer treatment, according to research from Lund University ...

The promise and peril of nanotechnology

Mar 26, 2014

Scientists at Northwestern University have found a way to detect metastatic breast cancer by arranging strands of DNA into spherical shapes and using them to cover a tiny particle of gold, creating a "nano-flare" ...

Nanoparticles target anti-inflammatory drugs where needed

Feb 23, 2014

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have developed a system for precisely delivering anti-inflammatory drugs to immune cells gone out of control, while sparing their well-behaved counterparts. ...

Recommended for you

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

New pain relief targets discovered

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Treating depression in Parkinson's patients

A group of scientists from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has found interesting new information in a study on depression and neuropsychological function in Parkinson's ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...