Anti-cancer virus could gain new power with patient immune cell tweak

When confronted with an anti-cancer virus, the immune system of a patient with rapidly advancing brain tumors kicks into action, generating natural killer (NK) cells to destroy what it sees as an invasion, scientists at Ohio State University and colleagues have found. In other words, the patient's immune system is, ironically, the treatment's worst enemy. But there may be a way to block the body's unfortunate response and make the treatment far more effective.

Scientists from the university's Comprehensive Cancer Center hope their finding can make cancer-killing viruses--which have been tested for a while now--far more effective against glioblastoma. The cancer is aggressive, and patients don't live long once they have the fast-moving brain tumors. Check out the journal Nature Medicine for study details.

In short, the scientists realized that the receptor molecules NKp30 and NKp46, once expressed, kick NK immune cells into action and they head after the anti-cancer virus, diminishing its impact. But in their mouse study, they found that the anti-cancer virus gained potency after they blocked both receptors, reducing the net amount of NK cells. The action also helped all of the tumor-stricken mice live longer.

A natural next step here would be to try to block the same NK cells in human glioblastoma patients treated with an anti-cancer virus, to see if they live longer. The research team is contemplating this, but they are likely years away from trials in people. Once they get there, there is also no guarantee that the process would be safe or effective in humans. And the suppression of NK cells in humans could have unintended consequences.

But the study gives hope that blocking the receptors in question can give anti-cancer viruses new potency to combat a form of the disease that is particularly hard to treat.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract