Dr. André Veillette, a researcher at the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montreal (IRCM), and his team will publish in the upcoming issue of the prestigious journal Nature Immunology, a discovery that could significantly advance the treatment of cancers and infectious diseases. Current treatments frequently achieve only limited results with these types of diseases, which affect hundreds of thousands of Canadians.
Dr. Veillette's team identified one of the basic mechanisms controlling NK ("natural killer") cell activity. Produced by the immune system, NK cells are responsible for recognizing and killing cancer cells and cells infected by viruses such as the viruses causing hepatitis and herpes. NK cell deficiency is associated with a higher frequency of cancers and serious infections. Dr. Veillette's breakthrough demonstrates that a molecule known as EAT-2, present in NK cells, suppresses its killer function. Inhibiting EAT-2 with medications could boost NK cell activity, helping to combat cancers and infections.
This publication constitutes a significant milestone for Dr. Veillette, an internationally renowned expert in the identification of the molecular mechanisms controlling the immune system. The article, which is slated for publication online on August 28 in Nature Immunology, gives genetic evidence for the inhibiting role of EAT-2 in NK cells. It is the product of over five years of intensive research by Dr. Veillette's team.
More specifically, by studying mice in which the EAT-2 protein is eliminated through genetic manipulations, Dr. Veillette's team has established that suppressing EAT-2 results in the production of NK cells that are much more effective at killing cancer cells. Inhibiting the function of EAT-2 with medications could therefore stimulate the killer function of NK cells, and increase their capacity to destroy cancer and virus-infected cells. These medications could be used in combination with chemotherapy and radiotherapy to improve the effectiveness of anti-cancer treatments. Teams around the world have been trying without success for many years to develop methods to increase NK cell activity. In this light, the discovery of Dr. Veillette's team opens new avenues for the treatment of cancers and communicable diseases.