Our immune system is constantly working to prevent cancer by eliminating certain potentially cancerous cells in their early stages, a new study suggests.
Immune cells undergo ‘spontaneous’ changes on a daily basis that could lead to cancers if not for the diligent surveillance of our immune system, scientists have found.
The research team from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Melbourne found that immune system was responsible for eliminating potentially cancerous immune B cells in their early stages, before they developed into B-cell lymphomas.
This immune surveillance accounts for what researchers call the ‘surprising rarity’ of B-cell lymphomas in the population, given how often these spontaneous changes occur.
The discovery could lead to the development of an early-warning test that identifies patients at high risk of developing B-cell lymphomas, enabling proactive treatment to prevent tumours from growing.
Dr Axel Kallies, Associate Professor David Tarlinton, Dr Stephen Nutt and colleagues made the discovery while investigating the development of B-cell lymphomas. Kallies said the discovery provided an answer to why B-cell lymphomas occur in the population less frequently than expected.
“Each and every one of us has spontaneous mutations in our immune B cells that occur as a result of their normal function,” Kallies said. “It is then somewhat of a paradox that B cell lymphoma is not more common in the population.
“Our finding that immune surveillance by T cells enables early detection and elimination of these cancerous and pre-cancerous cells provides an answer to this puzzle, and proves that immune surveillance is essential to preventing the development of this blood cancer,” Kallies said. The research team made the discovery while investigating how B cells change when lymphoma develops.
“As part of the research, we ‘disabled’ the T cells to suppress the immune system and, to our surprise, found that lymphoma developed in a matter of weeks, where it would normally take years,” Kallies said.
“It seems that our immune system is better equipped than we imagined to identify and eliminate cancerous B cells, a process that is driven by the immune T cells in our body,” said Kallies.
The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.