• Otávio Santiago

It’s Complicated: Immune System Has Unexpected Relationship to Cancer

Tumors use unexpected tricks to evade the immune system, according to new findings from researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The team found that hundreds of cancer-linked genes play an unexpected role in causing disease than previously thought. Tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) have long been known to block cell growth, preventing cancerous cells from spreading. Mutations in these genes, scientists believed, allow tumors to flourish unchecked. This new research shows that more than 100 mutated TSGs can prevent the immune system from spotting and destroying malignant cells in mice.

This work is published in Science in the article, “The adaptive immune system is a major driver of selection for tumor suppressor gene inactivation.

“These results reveal a fascinating and unexpected relationship between tumor suppressor genes and the immune system,” said Bert Vogelstein, MD, professor of oncology and cancer geneticist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and who was not involved in the research.

During tumorigenesis, tumors must evolve to evade the immune system. Typically, they do this by disrupting the genes involved in antigen processing and presentation or up-regulating inhibitory immune checkpoint genes.

Conventional wisdom had suggested that, for the vast majority of TSGs, mutations allow cells to grow and divide uncontrollably. But that explanation had some gaps. For example, mutated versions of many of these genes don’t actually cause rampant growth when put into cells in a petri dish. And scientists couldn’t explain why the immune system, which is normally highly proficient at attacking abnormal cells, doesn’t do more to nip new tumors in the bud.

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