By Mili Jayadeep | Science Editor
The human body has an immune system that acts as a defence against harm, whether this is against foreign pathogens or cellular change that can lead to cancer. However, cancer can overcome these defenses and result in uncontrollable cell division.
Cancer treatments can involve a method known as immunotherapy, which targets the body’s own immune system. Immunotherapy can be used to halt cancerous growth and spread. Similarly, it can also help facilitate the body’s immune system to kill cancerous cells.
A team of researchers led by Sophie Lucas at the University of Louvain de Duve Institute have been able to neutralise a molecule that hinders the immune system’s ability to fight cancer. This therapy was also shown to encourage the action of another immunotherapy. Their findings published in the journal Nature Communications demonstrate that tumour regression is possible with this therapy.
Lucas began the study in 2004 by looking at immunosuppressive cells that are responsible for inhibiting immune responses by the body. The aim was to identify and understand these cells in order to remove them hence restoring the immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells. The cells responsible for inducing immunosuppression in cancer patients are known as regulatory T lymphocytes(Tregs). In 2009, Professor Lucas identified a molecule on Tregs’s surface called GARP.
Research conducted on the molecule GARP helped understand its role in acting as a signal messenger for Tregs by inhibiting immune response signals. Professor Lucas’s progress, published in the journal Science, involves developing a biological mechanism using anti-GARP antibodies to target the messenger molecules and help prevent the delivery of these inhibitory signals.
By 2020, the team was able to perform the first tests on mice with cancer. They were able to utilise anti-GARP antibodies to neutralise the messenger molecule. Their results show great promise as this results in preventing immune system inhibition, thus enabling its ability to destroy cancerous cells. Their research also involved the use of another known immunotherapy using anti-PD1 antibodies, which when combined with their own novel approach results in tumour regression.
The team’s approach offers a new potential immunotherapy shown to be effective against cancer. However, there is more research to be conducted before this treatment can be included in current cancer therapeutics. The next stage involves trial on humans to test its safety and effectiveness before the therapy can be used as standard practice.
Science and Technology Mili Jayadeep