Immune systems duped by tumours says study

In collaboration with the Press Association

Some tumours are able to exploit the body's own immune system to try to stay invisible, research has revealed.

The research focused on white blood cells known as regulatory T cells, or T-reg cells, which are responsible for 'reining in' the body's immune system when it isn't required to fight disease.

The researchers found that pancreatic tumours were able to surround themselves with T-reg cells, so that the immune system's ability to attack them was severely reduced.

"Earlier, we found that T-reg cells are much more prevalent in patients with breast cancer and pancreatic cancer than in healthy patients," said researcher Dr David Linehan, associate professor of surgery.

"The new findings show that tumours are directly responsible for the increase of T-reg cells and can attract T-reg cells to their vicinity. This could be one way for tumours to evade immune surveillance."

Dr Linehan said that the finding could explain the failure of many experimental cancer treatments designed to boost the immune system in its fight against cancer.

Using early-stage animal-model testing, the research team have started to unpick the method used by tumours to gather T-reg cells, and disrupted it.

"We're looking at several potential ways to interfere with tumor recruitment of T-reg cells," said Dr Linehan. "We'd like to see these findings advance cancer immunotherapy.

"We want to find a way to actively suppress T-reg cells and at the same time actively evoke an immune response to tumor-specific antigens."

The research was carried out by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, USA, and published in the Journal of Immunotherapy.

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