Natural killer (NK) cells are lymphocytes, immune cells which have a powerful arsenal of cytotoxic weaponry that they can use against tumors.
Unfortunately, tumors protect themselves using a protective microenvironment that shields them from attack from NK cells. This microenvironment promotes tumor growth and survival and has an immunosuppressive effect that blunts the attempts of NK cells to infiltrate the tumor and destroy it. That was until now and this new discovery.
The new study shows that natural killer cells can be attracted to tumors to destroy cancer by switching the protective microenvironment with which the tumor shields itself from an immunosuppressive one to an immunosupportive one.
They discovered that if they blocked the intracellular garbage disposal process known as autophagy, it causes the tumor to produce cytokines (signals) that attract more NK cells to the location. This mass recruitment of NK cells all swarming to the tumor site allows for the destruction of cancerous cells and for the tumor to be reduced in size.
The potential for targeting autophagy in tumor cells is a promising approach for helping the immune system to combat cancer. This could pave the way for developing NK cell-based immunotherapies, as we now know how to disable the immunosuppressive tumor environment.
Read full, original post: Natural Killer Cells Swarm to Attack Cancer Thanks to New Immunotherapy