January 21, 2009

New anti-cancer control mechanism found

Canadian medical researchers say they have discovered a new anti-cancer, anti-infection response control mechanism.

Dr. Andre Veillette of the Institute of Research Clinics in Montreal, and his team led by postdoctoral fellow Dr. Mario-Ernesto Cruz-Munoz, said their discovery could have a significant impact on the treatment of cancers and infectious diseases.

The team identified one of the basic mechanisms controlling natural killer cell activity. Produced by the immune system, NK cells are responsible for recognizing and killing cancer cells and cells infected by viruses, they said, and NK cell deficiency is associated with a higher incidence of cancers and serious infections.

Our breakthrough demonstrates that a molecule known as CRACC, which is present at the surface of NK cells, increases their killer function, said Veillette.

Using mice, the researchers showed those lacking the CRACC gene were found to be more susceptible to cancer persistence. Conversely, stimulation of CRACC function was found to improve cancer cell elimination. Thus, they said, stimulating CRACC could boost NK cell activity, helping to fight cancers. In addition, it could improve the ability to fight infections, which are also handled by NK cells.

The findings are detailed in the journal Nature Immunology.