World Bulletin / News Desk
Breast cancer cells can destroy a powerful immune response in the body and allow the disease to spread to the patient's bones, researchers in Australia reported on Monday.
They also experimented with two ways to reinstate this immune response to help patients fight breast cancer, but it will take more tests and several more years for these therapies to become routine treatments, they said.
"We have identified a way that breast cancer cells can turn off the immune system, allowing them to spread to distant parts such as the bone," said Belinda Parker, a research fellow at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, who led the study.
"By understanding how this occurs, we hope to use existing and new therapies to restore this immune function and prevent the spread of cancer," she said by telephone.
The study was published on Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medicine.
In 2010, 1.5 million people were diagnosed with breast cancer, the top cancer in women around the world.
Although it kills many women in developing countries, 89 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in western countries are still alive five years after diagnosis thanks to detection tests and treatment.
Using tissue samples from breast cancer patients and experiments with mice, Parker and colleagues found that a gene called IRF7 is switched off in patients whose cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
IRF7 controls the production of interferon, an important type of immune protein that fights viruses and bacteria apart from tumour cells
"Usually when breast cancer cells leave the breast and travel in the bloodstream and into bone marrow, the release of interferons by IRF7 will cause the immune system to recognise those cells and eliminate them," Parker said.
"But by losing IRF7, it prevents the stimulation of immune responses and allows those cells to hide from being recognised (and later spread)."
Parker and her team tried two ways to revive this immune response in mice experiments and both appeared to work.
"We put the gene back into cancer cells so it can't switch it (IRF7) off. We allowed the immune pathway to be stimulated and the cancer cells did not spread to the bone," Parker said.
"The other way is to treat the animals with interferon, which is available for treating other diseases, like hepatitis. That also prevented the spread of cancer to the bone."
Parker said they will study how best to use these two methods on patients in the next few years and plan to have a clinical trial in two to three years.
Students in a private Australian high school have recreated a malaria drug in the school laboratory
2 studies claim psilocybin, outlawed by federal government, could significantly improve patients’ mood
Global crises changing nature of hotel industry, expert warns Mediterranean Week of Economic Leaders conference
Fighting climate change means different things in different cities, as this snapshot illustrates:
The Paris deal, now in force, calls for capping global warming at two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and at 1.5 C (2.7 F) if possible.
British MPs voted in February to allow the creation of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) babies with DNA from three people.
The H5N6 virus was first confirmed on November 18 at a farm in central South Korea and it has since spread to farms around the country, with the total number of cases now standing at 46.
It is one of the biggest clinical trials involving the disease ever undertaken and has revived hopes in the scientific community of a breakthrough in the battle against AIDS.
Nuclear energy: who's advancing and who's retreating
A killer bird flu that is sweeping Europe has forced Sweden to cull more than 200,000 chickens
Study finds blood of old mice makes young mice feeble; scientists hope to discover more in human trials soon
Drug overdoses are now killing more Americans than car crashes, putting the sheer scale of the crisis into perspective.
The idea of clean air, potable water and healthy food free from heavy metals, pesticides, and other pollutants as a human right emerged in the mid-1970s.
60 percent of all Kenyans have never been tested for disease, says report
Average temperatures for the year were set to hit about 1.2 Celsius (2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels -- meaning that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record were this century, said the UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO).