Medicine

Immune cells determine how fast certain tumors grow

David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD, and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studying brain tumors in mice discovered that tumors grow most rapidly if they can enlist the aid of immune cells. The findings suggest that therapies targeting immune cells could potentially treat some kinds of brain tumors.

Tumors arise when cells shake off their restraints and start to multiply out of control. But how fast a tumor grows does not depend solely on how quickly the cancer cells can divide, a new study has found.

By examining brain tumors in mice, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discovered that immune cells that should be defending the body against disease sometimes can be enticed into providing aid and comfort to tumor cells instead. The more immune cells a tumor can recruit to its side, the faster the tumor grows, the researchers found.

The findings, published May 29 in the journal Neuro-Oncology, suggest that targeting immune system cells could potentially slow brain tumor growth in people with the genetic condition neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).

“It’s not just all about the tumor cell anymore,” said senior author David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD, the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor of Neurology and director of the Washington University Neurofibromatosis Center. “It’s also about what happens in the tumor environment that drives brain cancer growth. This gives us another way to attack these tumors beyond merely killing the cancer cells – namely, interrupting the communication between tumor cells and immune system cells.”

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