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.