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Cancer immunity

Posted by Richard on May 11, 2006

Three years ago, researchers at Wake Forest University stumbled upon a mouse that was extremely resistant to cancer. They subsequently bred a highly cancer-resistant strain of mice. In their latest study, they injected white blood cells from the cancer-resistant mice into mice susceptible to cancer. None of the susceptible mice got cancer:

"We were surprised," said Dr. Zheng Cui, a co-investigator of the new finding that appears today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "The powerful resistance was transferred through the animal’s white blood cells," which are immune system cells. Cui, Dr. Mark Willingham and colleagues found that the animal’s innate immune system turns on to protect against cancer or to kill cancer that already exists.
. . .

Dr. Alan Houghton, a cancer researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, observed that the research "nails it down to a cell of the immune system, and that is mediating this resistance. It may not get you closer to a gene, but it gets you closer to the mechanism."

The Wake Forest researchers are working with their university to make the novel mouse strain available to other scientists.

"The observation needs to be replicated and confirmed," Cui said. "If this turns out to be what we hope it is, it will be a gift to mankind."

No kidding. The cancer-resistant mice have already been shared with researchers at Scripps Research Institute in California, the University of Michigan, and Washington University in St. Louis. If someone figures out the mechanism by which white blood cells are switched into cancer-killing mode — well, can you imagine a time when you add cancer to the list of standard childhood immunizations? When the nurse asks you, "How long has it been since your last tetanus and cancer booster?"

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