Mesothelioma researchers may benefit from a remarkable new discovery about cancer cells. According to a report published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, scientists from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital have identified a mechanism that helps cancer cells increase the amount of energy they use to grow while at the same time depleting the energy that the immune system uses to kill them. These findings may provide a new approach for defeating cancer’s resistance to treatment.
Cancers Like Mesothelioma Use Nanotubes to Rob Immune System of Energy
Mesothelioma and other highly resistant cancer cells present a significant challenge, but one of the most promising approaches has been the development of immune checkpoint inhibitors that block the actions of immune-blocking proteins on the cells’ surface. But this protocol is not always effective.
To determine how cancers like mesothelioma are still able to grow despite the use of these protein-blocking inhibitors, Drs. Hae Lin Jang and Shiladitya Sengupta combined cancer cells with immune cells known as T cells and then examined them under an electron microscope. They found that the cells connected with each other via nanotubes. It’s well known that these hollow tubes are used to transfer material between cells, but in this case the material being transferred was mitochondria, which generate energy.
Are Mesothelioma Cells Using Nanotubes to Leech Energy from the Immune System?
Mitochondria are found in most cells, and they are responsible for providing them with energy. When the researchers stained mitochondria in the T cells with a fluorescent dye, they found that they moved through the nanotubes into the cancer cells but that no material was being transferred from the cancer cells into the immune cells. Closer analysis found that after this transfer, the cancer cells began producing more energy and grew faster, while the T cells died. This indicates that the cancer cells were not only evading the impact of the immune cells, but were actually benefiting from their presence.
The researchers then tested a theory that may provide mesothelioma researchers and others battling cancer with invaluable information and a new approach for battling disease. After noting the one-way transfer of energy that debilitated the immune cells and strengthened the cancer cells, they inhibited the formation of nanotubes while at the same time administering an immune checkpoint inhibitor. They found that this combination reduced tumor growth more than either approach by itself. Speaking of their findings, Dr. Sengupta said, “Cancer kills when the immune system is suppressed and cancer cells are able to metastasize, and it appears that nanotubes can help them do both. This is a completely new mechanism by which cancer cells evade the immune system, and it gives us a new target to go after.”
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