Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 8.8 million deaths in 2015. Cancer arises from the transformation of normal cells into tumor cells in a multistage process that generally progresses from a pre-cancerous lesion to a malignant tumor. With so many patients and families affected by cancer, research in this area is a constant source of interest.
In a recent study published in August in Cell Reports, researchers at Mount Sinai have made large numbers of immune cells to prevent cancer re-occurrence. The researchers discovered a way to grow dendritic immune cells on large scale in the lab for potential use in cancer vaccines designed to prevent reoccurring cancer.
Dendritic cells are central to the primary immune responses and are the only antigen-presenting cell capable of stimulating naive T cells. Dendritic cells are very rare in the body, so it has not been possible to isolate them from patients for generating vaccines without great expense and complicated methodology.
The ability to grow many types of dendritic cells, which act as sentinels that warn the immune system to gear up with weapons specific to the disease it is attacking, will allow researchers to study their roles in the immune system. This discovery is especially important because dendritic cells aren’t limited to one type of cancer and can attack all types of cancer with very limited side effects.
“The ability to generate large numbers of distinct types of human dendritic cells in vitro is critical for accelerating our understanding of dendritic cell biology and to harness them clinically,” –Nina Bhardwaj, Director of Immunotherapy at The Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
In addition to the growth of dendritic cells for targeted immunotherapy, the study also investigated the role of notch signaling, a biological pathway central for generating cDC1 dendritic cells, the preferred cell type for cancer vaccines. The study provided an important revelation regarding a potentially fatal flaw in some of the current cancer treatments: some treatments being tested in clinical trials disrupt the notch signaling pathway, which could inhibit cDC1 and may negatively affect the immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells. This discovery could help identify potential cancer treatments early on, separating those treatments that enhance the immune system response to cancer from those that inhibit the immune response.
This research is a jumping-off point for further research on the different types of dendritic cells and other immune cells and has implications for not only boosting cancer-fighting therapies but also to prevent organ transplant rejection, which involves the immune system as well.