A recent study, published in the journal Cancer Research suggests that Cancer cells present in childhood cancer called Neuroblastoma has a molecule that destroys an important energy source for the immune cells of the body, rendering the cells weaker and unable to fight the disease.
The mechanism of immune suppression
The scientists sponsored by the Cancer Research UK have found that in neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer affecting the nerve cells, the cells develop a molecule for the breakdown of arginine, a building block of protein and a crucial source of energy for the immune cells.This molecule is known as arginase.
It creates a significant drop in the levels of arginine in the region surrounding the tumor. On reaching the tumor, the cells of the immune system become weaker and ineffective due to the sudden deprivation of their vital energy source.
The cells of neuroblastoma differ from the normal cells due to the presence of a molecule on their surface. This provides a new hope for their recognition and destruction by the immune system. This new research might explain the reasons behind the failure of previous attempts in controlling the immune system.
Dr. Francis Mussai, the author of the study at the University of Birmingham, stated that it is well-known that neuroblastoma can be effectively treated by utilizing the power of the immune system. But he added that he didn’t know why it was difficult for the immune cells to recognize and destroy the tumor. Dr. Mussai also specified that, on having the latest knowledge about the role of arginine, it may now be possible to activate the immune system for the destruction of cancer cells.
Dr. Carmela De Santo, a co-author of the study at the University of Birmingham, highlighted that now, the challenge is to discover newer drugs that can prevent the eating up of arginine by neuroblastoma cells and enhance the efficacy of the immune system.
In the Uk, around 90 neuroblastoma cases are reported every year, most of them are children under the age of 5 years.
Eleanor Barrie, a senior manager of science information at the Cancer Research UK added that these findings could have major association with neuroblastoma treatment. Further understanding of arginine and its role could facilitate in the enhancement of immune cells, and is expected to improve the effectiveness of treatment.
Cancer Research UK Kids and Teens was recently launched to bring forward the goal of saving the loss of young lives due to cancer. Here, the primary target is to discover newer and better treatment options for diseased children to ensure a long and healthy life for every cancer child in the future.
Source: Childhood cancer cells drain immune system’s batteries, August1, 2015