The battle against cancer is becoming more and more high-tech, as scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital create a molecule that can disable cancer cells.
The field of immunotherapy is currently buzzing, with new discoveries and advancements happening seemingly every day. A new ally is currently showing a lot of promise in laboratory trials and is expected to make an important contribution of its own. Named AK750, the synthesized molecule is highly complex and has a dual action.
One of the reasons why cancer is so difficult to tackle is because it can hide from the immune system, by signaling a certain pathway, CSF-1R. This starts a process which “polarizes tumor-associated macrophages from an antitumor M1 phenotype to a pro-tumorigenic M2 phenotype”. At this stage, antibodies just don’t recognize the abnormal cells as a danger. A second clever ploy that cancer uses is to signal the protein alpha (SIRPα) receptor on macrophages to effectively tell them not to attack.
AK750 works by inhibiting both processes, CD47–SIRPα and MCSF–CSF-1R signaling, revealing the tumor cells and enabling the body to fight the disease.
Estimates from the World Health Organization put cancer as the second cause of death worldwide. It’s not only a medical problem but also an economic burden and a social issue.
This new wave of biological therapies presents a number of advantages over traditional courses of cancer treatment. They are less toxic to the body and cause fewer side effects, compared to both standard chemotherapy and radiation. Overall they appear to also be more efficient, but so far are capable of working only on certain types of cancer.
As with every new experimental treatment, a lot more testing is required before it can be marketed to the general public.