Dr. Mario Ernesto Cruz Muñoz | Understanding How Leukemia Evades the Immune System
About this episode
Natural killer cells, along with other lymphocytes, are responsible for finding cells that are experiencing stress. Such cellular stress can occur when a cell is infected with a virus, or when it is becoming cancerous. Natural killer cells can identify stressed cells by detecting signals on their surfaces. These signals are recognized by a suite of proteins found on the surfaces of killer cells, known as immunoreceptors. Upon detecting these signals, natural killer cells secrete toxic substances that can kill the stressed cells. Read More
Although natural killer cells can recognize and destroy cancer, many cancerous cells can evade detection. They do this through their ability to inhibit the function of immune cells, including killer cells.
Leukemia arises when blood cells known as leukocytes become cancerous. Like other cancer cells, leukemia cells can inhibit the activity of natural killer cells and evade death. Today, scientists are developing various strategies that can reverse the deactivation of immune cells by leukemia cells. These strategies include ‘arming’ natural killer cells, by modifying their surface receptors to more efficiently recognize leukemia cells.
These modified cells could then be injected into a patient’s bloodstream. However, before such therapies can reach their full potential, a better understanding of how natural killer cells recognize and attack leukemia cells is urgently needed.
Dr. Mario Cruz and his colleagues at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos in Mexico are working to identify signals that regulate the vulnerability of leukemia cells to natural killer cells. Towards this aim, Dr. Cruz’s team has identified a group of receptors that are only found on immune cells.
This group of receptors is known as the SLAM family, which stands for ‘Signaling Lymphocyte Activation Molecule’. SLAM receptors regulate the activity of natural killer cells and other immune cells. These receptors can work as accelerators that enhance the functioning of natural killer cells.
In addition to discovering that leukemia cells express SLAM receptors, Dr. Cruz and his colleagues also found that leukemia cells can change the patterns of these receptors on their surfaces. By modifying the expression of SLAM receptors, leukemia cells can reduce their chances of being identified by natural killer cells.
This improved understanding of how leukemia cells alter receptors on their surfaces will aid the development of new strategies that can target these stealthy cancer cells. As such, the team’s exciting discoveries pave the way for the design of new therapeutic strategies against leukemia.
Original Article Reference
Summary of the paper ‘A NK Cell Odyssey: From Bench to Therapeutics Against Hematological Malignancies’, in Frontiers in Immunology, doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2022.803995
For further information, you can connect with Dr. Mario Ernesto Cruz Muñoz at firstname.lastname@example.org
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