Cancer is the last thing on Earth one wishes to die from. Hard to detect and even harder to treat, cancer cells are a menace that evades most medicines and destroys the body from within. With the continuous inflow of newer chemicals into the body every day from the newer products, we are at even greater risk of acquiring cancer than before.
Cancer incidence has shot to alarming rates as of recent times and seems to be unstoppable. Due to this, the research on cancer has touched newer heights than before and scientists are moving to newer solutions in medicine, not tried or thought of before. While we have over 50 years of research on cancer cells, the cure still evades us. Part success against cancer lies in the process how it evades detection by body defenses and thrives till it overtakes and kills one.
Cancer cells have surface proteins and sugar that link to immune cells to stop their disease-fighting action. There are cancer therapies called immune therapies, which block the interaction between PD-L1 proteins on the cancer cells and PD-1 proteins on T cells to activate the body’s natural immunity against cancer. Such therapies are effective only for some cancers and only 10-20% people who receive it show improvement.
However, scientists recently also found surface sugar on cancer cells, that prevents Natural Killer cells or NK cells from taking action on the cancer cells. Sialic acid sugar present on the tumor cells interacts with Siglec proteins present on NK cells and other immunity cells, which makes them ignore the tumor.
A new kind of therapy is being devised so that this fooling activity of cancer cells can be stopped using sugar targeted medicine, which would block the interaction between the sugar on cancer cells and the protein on the immunity cells and alert the innate immune cells to like NK cells and macrophages to take defensive action quickly. These work faster than T cells.
A cell’s body has certain markers like proteins and sugars which tell the immune cells whether a cell is foreign or not. Sialic is one of the markers that identify to immune cells as a cell which is body’s own. Some bacteria use this camouflage by coating themselves with sugar to avoid detection and getting destructed by body’s defenses. Cancer cells, use this method along with proteins on the surface to avoid detection. We hope the therapies are able to address the sugar based cloaking of cancer soon.
Further reading: Cancer cells cast a sweet spell on the immune system – here