Stem-like T cells pegged as natural cancer fighters

Study says such cells could aid immunotherapy in cancer treatment

Researchers at Yale Cancer Center have shown through a new study that stem-like T cells have the potential of being natural cancer fighters and could help in immunotherapy in cancer treatment. Scientists believe that if these T cells are targeted with immunotherapy, it could be possible to have more cancer patients response to treatment against cancer.

While there are therapies that use immune system to destroy the cancer cells in the body, not all people are able to response to immunotherapy drugs and so there is a need to find ways to trigger a favourable immune response in more people. So scientists say they investigated the role of these special T cells in tumor growth. The findings were reported online today in the journal Science Immunology.

In this study, researchers first developed a new animal model where they could look at the stem-like T cells in tumors over the course of several months of tumor growth, and determine how the stem-like T cells survive. They discovered the stem-like T cells do not persist in the tumor for very long, which meant they are resupplied from somewhere else in the body.

Nearby lymph nodes, an immune organ containing many of these stem-like T cells, were replenishing the supply. Every so often, a few stem-like T cells leave the lymph node and travel to the tumor. This keeps the tumor supplied with fresh cancer fighting T cells. Researchers believe this is important for slowing the growth of cancer. An analysis of immune cells isolated from patients with lung cancer confirmed that stem-like T cells are in lymph nodes near the lung.

“T cells in tumors become exhausted, but our study results show the stem-like T cells within the nearby lymph nodes do not experience exhaustion during the course of disease,” said Kelli A. Connolly, a post-doctoral fellow at Yale Cancer Center and lead author of the study. “This could be an important treatment advance as the potential to respond to immunotherapy is preserved.”

Scientists say they are focusing on development of therapies that will activate the stem-like T cells in the nearby lymph node and bring them into the fight against cancer and continue to work on improving these therapeutic responses to help patients.

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