Australian Researchers Have Found That Cancer Cells Use Camouflage To Trick Our Bodies

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Scientist have found a new treatment target for cancer, a key protein on the surface of immune cells which helps to camouflage the disease.

Brisbane-based Professor Mark Smyth has shown that the CD96 protein prevents the body’s natural immune cells from responding to cues from cancer cells.

“Every day, our bodies fight off cancer, because our Natural Killer cells – or NKs – instantly recognise cancer cells as alien, and destroy them,” Professor Smyth said.

“But we’ve discovered that NKs have the CD96 protein on their surface, and this protein stops NKs from being overactivated. Essentially, the cancer hijacks this process to prevent immune recognition and activation, allowing the cancer to spread through the body.”

“What this discovery provides us with is a clear path for new treatments for advanced cancers, because we can develop an antibody to block CD96, now that we know it is an immune checkpoint inhibitor.

“CD96 could potentially be used to treat some of the most deadly forms of cancer including advanced metastatic cancers.”

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are regarded as the most exciting advances in cancer treatments in decades, showing remarkable results in trials across the world.

“Our next, crucial step is to test CD96’s role in human cells and we’d hope to have those results later this year. If all goes to plan, and I must say it is looking promising, we can take the next steps towards human trials,” Professor Smyth said.

“There is still much more to learn, and CD96’s exact function in other diseases to be defined. But it’s now clear that it has an important role to play in cancer’s development, and our work is taking us in exciting directions.”

Professor Mark Smyth heads the Immunology in Cancer and Infection Laboratory at QIMR Berghofer in Brisbane. This study was completed with colleagues from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Washington University School of Medicine.

The study was published in today’s edition of the journal Nature Immunology.

This research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Leukaemia Foundation of Australia.

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