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Removing Sleep Switch In Tumor T-cells Could Help Immune System Fight Cancer

Update Date: Apr 18, 2016 05:21 AM EDT

Researchers have long been trying to boost human immune system to fight cancer since immune system is considered as the most powerful weapon than any other medication. In one of the recent studies investigators found that removing a particular gene from T-cells present in the tumor would trigger immune system to fight and kill cancer cells efficiently.

According to investigators, removing the sleep-switch in the immune cells present inside the tumor would boost them to recognize the tumor and destroy them. The cancer cells are believed to take advantage of the sleep-switch that enables cancer cells to mask themselves from being targeted by the immune cells, according to Cancer Research UK.

Immunotherapy drugs used in cancer treatment also follow a similar mechanism but with comparatively more side effects. The drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors influence the sleep switch process but they affect immune system as a whole and result in severe side effects in some cases.

A team of researchers led by Professor Karl Peggs and Dr Sergio Quezada from University College London's Cancer Institute removed the PD-1 gene that act as sleep switch from T cells present in the tumor. Once after editing the gene, the immune cells were able to fight the cancer cells, which were once sequestered from the T-cells.

"This is an exciting discovery and means we may have a way to get around cancer's defences while only targeting the immune cells that recognise the cancer," said Quezada, co-lead author from University College London's Cancer Institute. "While drugs that block PD-1 do show promise, this method only knocks out PD-1 on the T cells that can find the tumour which could mean fewer side effects for patients," he added, noted BBC.

The researchers tested the gene editing technique in laboratory mice where the T-cells found in the tumor were extracted and PD-1 gene was removed. When the edited T-cells were placed back the tumor reportedly shrank in size. The actual purpose of the PD-1 switch is to stop the immune system acting against the cells it is not supposed to attack that includes healthy cells of our body.

"We know that some cancers can switch off the cells of our immune system, and this interesting laboratory research suggests a new way that we might be able to get around the problem, although this is still some way away from use in the clinic," said Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician.

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