Discover the specialized immune cells that detect and attack blocking tumors

about the episode

We don’t have enough of these kinds of messages. Scientists from Leiden University Medical Center and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek have discovered how specialized immune cells are able to detect and remove tumors that are invisible to the immune system’s traditional defense mechanisms.

T cells that detect abnormal cells in our bodies can recognize many types of abnormalities, but our immune system sometimes struggles with cancer cells. They are only recognized if a specific molecule has attached to these cells. Some cancer cells lack this molecule, which is a clever trick that makes them invisible to our T cells.

Now researchers have seen something remarkable: some patients with “unseen” tumors respond well to cancer immunotherapy. In these treatments, the body’s T cells are strengthened and used again. This shouldn’t really work, but it does.

How it turns out that gamma-delta T cells—a less well-known and highly specialized type of immune cell—are able to detect cancer cells invisible to conventional T cells. So we have a second line of defense. The researchers will now look at how to use them as effectively as possible against cancer.

Read more about research: Specialized immune cells offer the potential for new therapies against cancer.

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