How do human bodies fight against cancer?

Researchers have identified a process by which our body’s immune system can be triggered to attack cancer cells.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could help develop new approaches to treating people with leukaemia – blood cancer.

The team from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Quadram Institute found that immune cells known as macrophages could be programmed to attack the cancer cells through a protein known as STING (Stimulator of interferon genes), a well-established activator of the immune system.

“Our results provide insight into how the immune system is able to be utilised to attack cancers if given the right signals,” said Stuart Rushworth, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.

“Patients often relapse following treatment for cancer, because small amounts of disease remain despite chemotherapy. Our research reveals that targeting this biological phenomenon could help eradicate leukaemia from the bone marrow,” he added.

The researchers identified these mechanisms in the bone marrow of leukaemia patients and mouse models of acute myeloid leukaemia.

“At present, sadly chemotherapy is often not enough to cure people of leukaemia. In the future, I hope our findings will help improve treatments for people with leukaemia by priming their immune response to help the chemotherapy drugs work better,” Rushworth said.

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