Scientists have discovered a potential protein that may boost immunity in relation to certain types of viruses and cancers. Research coming out of the Imperial College London in coordination with researchers at Queen Mary University of London, ETH Zurich and Harvard Medical School, has been going on for over 6 years.
New Protein, Potential Cancer Therapy?
Scientists believe this protein plays a central role in promoting immunity to viruses and cancer, opening the door to new therapies. The experiments in mice and human cells have shown that the protein promotes the proliferation of cytotoxic T cells, which kill cancer cells and cells infected with viruses.
The discovery was unexpected because the new protein had no known function and doesn’t resemble any other protein. From this research, analysts are now developing a gene therapy designed to boost the infection-fighting cells, and hope to begin human trials in three years.
Saving the T Cells
Cytotoxic T cells are an important component of the immune system, but when faced with serious infections or advanced cancer, they are often unable to proliferate in large enough quantities to fight the disease.
By screening mice with genetic mutations, the Imperial team discovered a strain of mice that produced 10 times as many cytotoxic T cells when infected with a virus compared with normal mice. These mice suppressed the infection more effectively, and were more resistant to cancer.
They also produced more of a second type of T cells, memory cells, enabling them to recognize infections they have encountered previously and launch a rapid response. The mice with enhanced immunity produced high levels of a hitherto unknown protein, which the researchers named lymphocyte expansion molecule, or LEM.
Researchers went on to show that LEM modulates the proliferation of human T cells as well as in mice.
New Gene Therapy to Improve Immunity
Researchers now aim to develop a gene therapy designed to improve immunity by boosting the production of LEM. With the support of Imperial Innovations, the technology commercialization company for the College, the researchers have filed two patents. A company called ImmunarT has been formed with the aim of commercializing the technology.
Cancer Cells v. T Cells
The bad guys verses the good ones, cancer cells have always had ways to suppress T cell activity, helping them to escape the immune system.
However, genetically engineering T cells to augment their ability to fight cancer has been a goal for some time and techniques for modifying them already exist. By introducing an active version of the LEM gene into the T cells of cancer patients, researchers hope they can provide a robust treatment for patients.
This discovery has immediate consequences for the delivery of innovative therapeutic approaches to cancer. The discovery of a protein that could boost the immune response to not only cancer, but also to viruses