How Lung Cancer Tricks Your Immune System

Lung cancer is a massive problem in the United States, as an estimated one in sixteen Americans will develop this disease at some point in their lifetime. According to a recent study, lung cancer might even be able to take control of our immune cells.

A Hostile Takeover

This was the finding of a study from Mount Sinai hospital, which appeared in the June 2021 issue of the journal Nature. For this project, the study authors analyzed tissue samples from 35 individuals with lung cancer. Specifically, they took a close look at a certain type of immune cell, known as tissue-resident macrophages.

In healthy lungs, tissue-resident macrophages repair tissues that have sustained damage. However, the Mount Sinai team found that this process went horribly awry when cancerous cells were added to the equation. Essentially, lung cancer tumors hijack these immune cells, using them to hide from the body’s defenses as they spread to other parts of the body.

A Way Forward?

As alarming as these findings were, there is some good news. The study authors believe that their work could eventually pave the way for future medications, which could help prevent macrophage takeover by cancer cells. The team further noted that this process also occurs in mice, meaning that mouse models could be used to better examine this issue.

In a Mount Sinai press release detailing the study, lead researcher Miriam Merad stated that her team’s findings “are very important for Mount Sinai in the future as we have a very strong lung cancer screening program that identifies patients with early lung cancer lesions before they become fully invasive. These findings will help devise immunoprevention strategies to prevent tumor progression in patients at risk by reprogramming macrophages and killing the tumor without surgery.”

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