Fighting Cancer with T Cells

It’s hard to understate the impact of cancer on public health. Each year, an estimated 1.6 million Americans are diagnosed with some form of cancer, while over 600,000 die from this disease. Given these statistics, it’s no wonder why medical researchers keep looking for ways to treat cancer. A recent example of these efforts comes from a report from Yale University Cancer Center.

Providing Relief

For this report, the Yale team focused on the ability of T cells to fight cancerous tumors; a number of animal subjects were used for this study. The T cells in question are typically found in specific lymph nodes, or small bean-shaped structures that help filter harmful microbes out of the body.

The Yale team noticed that over the course of several months, stem-like T cells inside of cancerous tumors disappeared in a relatively short amount of time. However, these cells still remained present in the tumors, meaning that the vanishing cells were routinely being replaced. The authors found that these cancer-fighting replacements were coming from lymph nodes located nearby.

A New Approach?

To confirm their findings, the Yale researchers examined immune cells extracted from people with confirmed cases of lung cancer. Once again, stem-like T cells were found to be present in adjacent lymph nodes. Given these findings, the study authors theorized that supplementing these T-cells with immunotherapy drugs could help treat those with cancer.

In a Yale School of Medicine press release, senior author and Assistant Professor of Immunobiology Nikhil Joshi stated that “therapies that use the immune system to destroy cancer have been a game changer for patients with lung and other cancers.“ But not all people respond to immunotherapy drugs, so it was important for us to discover the role of these special T cells in tumor growth.”

Joshi further noted that “we are focused on developing therapies that will activate the stem-like T cells in the nearby lymph node and bring them into the fight against cancer. We plan to continue this work and focus on how to improve these therapeutic responses to help patients.”

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