Immune system helps prevent tumors after all

St. Louis, April 25, 2001 Researchers have obtained the first conclusive evidence that the immune system helps prevent tumor formation. They discovered that white blood cells called lymphocytes and a protein produced by immune cells work together to find and eliminate tumor cells.

Their paper appears in the April 26 issue of the journal Nature. "This sheds light on an age-old controversy and suggests new possibilities for cancer therapy," says Robert D. Schreiber, Ph.D., the Alumni Professor of Pathology and Immunology and professor of molecular microbiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Schreiber led the study. Vijay Shankaran, an M.D./Ph.D. student in Schreibers lab, was first author of the paper. The St. Louis researchers collaborated with Lloyd J. Old, M.D., director and CEO of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Because the immune system protects the body against infection, scientists once predicted that it also protects against tumor cells. But several studies in the 1970s found that "nude" mice mice thought to lack lymphocytes did not develop more chemically-induced or spontaneous tumors than normal mice. So the immune system theory was abandoned.

However, subsequent studies revealed that these nude mice were not completely free of lymphocytes and therefore did not represent a model of tumor formation in the context of an impaired immune system. Recently, Schreiber and others have found evidence that both lymphocytes and gamma interferon (IFNg), a protein produced by certain lymphocytes, might play important roles in tumor prevention. So Schreiber and colleagues decided to explore further.

In this current paper, they used a strain of mice that completely lacked functional lymphocytes. This was accomplished by inactivating a lymphocyte-specific gene called RAG2. When these mice were injected with the chemical carcinogen MCA, 58 percent of them de

Contact: Gila Reckess
Washington University School of Medicine

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