When the immune system recognises contrites cancer cells as a threat it switches on an attack ramp. New research from the ICS Cancer Unit at King’s College Dublin, published in Nature Nanotechnology, suggests that these immune cells are not the only agent in the tumour environment and might also be a good target for immunotherapies, the future of cancer treatment in the 21st century.

Research showed that in certain genetic cancers along the spectrum of malignancy, T cells which normally fight off invading pathogens burst into the tumour as a biofilm and can respond by triggering an immune response, using DNA as medication to change tumour cells to become anti-tumour cells.

The discovery is a significant step forward for doctors involved in immunotherapy research. Here so far, it has been assumed that the tumour immune response that causes the symptoms of a disease is the same immune response that triggers an overactive immune system in red blood cells. However, this study has shown that the function of the tumour immune response was, in fact, unknown and new immune signalling molecules may be needed to provide a viable alternative.”T cells are a unique cell type and therefore are often thought of having the capability to fight cancer,” commented lead researcher, Dr Darrin Morrissey from the Division of Interstitial Molecular and Acute Physiology Genetics.

This study was recently reported in the journal, Nature Nanotechnology and in a series of publications since now, this research has been picked up in cancer journals such as Nature, Flexner and FELT.Current approaches to develop patients’ immune systems to be efficient killers of cancer have focused on suppressing the tumours’ attack against the immune system, but this method is invasive and costly.

The issue of freedom and environmental degradation, which those working on this approach, acknowledge, are not new. What is surprising is the fact that in studying immune responses, they have been able to show that the tumour’s own defence system, just as crucial for the survival of cells, is also involved in the tumour’s attack.