Immune cell discovery could help to halt cancer spread

Immune cell discovery could help to halt cancer spread
Dr Nick Huntington (left), Ms Rebecca Delconte (centre) and Dr Priyanka Sathe have shown natural killer cells are vital for halting the spread of cancer cells, rejecting donor bone marrow transplants and in toxic shock syndrome.

(Medical Xpress)—Melbourne researchers have revealed the critical importance of highly specialised immune cells, called natural killer cells, in killing melanoma cells that have spread to the lungs. These natural killer cells could be harnessed to hunt down and kill cancers that have spread in the body.

The team, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, also found cells were critical to the body's rejection of donor bone marrow transplants and in the runaway immune response during toxic shock syndrome.

The discoveries came after the team showed that a protein called MCL-1 was crucial for survival of natural killer cells, in research published today in the journal Nature Communications. The discovery will help to determine how natural killer cells can be manipulated to fight cancers and other disorders.

Dr Nick Huntington, Dr Priyanka Sathe and Ms Rebecca Delconte from the Molecular Immunology division said MCL-1 could be a target for boosting or depleting natural killer cell populations to treat disease. Natural killer cells are immune predators, scouring the body in search of foreign invaders such as viruses, and sensing changes in our own cells that are associated with cancer.

Dr Huntington said the team showed natural killer cells were needed to fight off invading that had spread past the original cancer site.

"We discovered MCL-1 is absolutely essential for keeping natural killer cells alive," Dr Huntington said. "Without natural killer cells, the body was unable to destroy melanoma metastases that had spread throughout the body, and the cancers overwhelmed the lungs."

"Knowing how important natural killer cells are for detecting and destroying as they spread suggests they would be a good target for boosting immune defenses to treat cancer."

Natural killer cells are present in high frequency in our blood and patrol the body's 'frontlines' – the lungs, intestines, mucous membranes and skin – to detect and destroy . However these predatory natural killer cells are a double-edged sword.

Dr Huntington said the team showed natural killer cells also played a role in death from toxic shock (sepsis), and in rejecting .

"Natural killer cells led the response that caused rejection of donor stem cells in bone marrow transplantations," Dr Huntington said. "They also produced inflammatory signals that can result in , a potentially fatal illness caused by bacterial toxins that causes a whole-body inflammatory reaction."

Dr Huntington said the discovery provided a solid lead to look for ways of boosting natural killer cells when they are needed in higher supply, or depleting them when they are causing illness.

"We showed MCL-1 levels inside the cell increase in response to a blood cell signalling protein called interleukin 15 (IL-15)," he said. "We previously knew IL-15 boosted production and survival of natural killer cells, and we have shown that IL-15 does this by initiating a cascade of signals that tell the natural killer cell to produce MCL-1 to keep it alive.

"Now that we know the critical importance of MCL-1 in the survival of , we are investigating how we might manipulate this protein, or other proteins in the pathway, to treat disease."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Some immune cells defend only one organ

Apr 17, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Scientists have uncovered a new way the immune system may fight cancers and viral infections. The finding could aid efforts to use immune cells to treat illness.

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

6 hours ago

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

9 hours ago

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

Oct 23, 2014

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments