New research has uncovered the first biological receptor that alerts the immune system to “dangerous” or abnormal cell death, potentially paving the way for future cancer drug discovery.
Tissue is kept healthy by the normal process of cell death, but cells sometimes undergo an abnormal form of death – called necrosis – in response to a trauma or injury.
Scientists have long suspected that sensing this type of cell death could kick-start an immune response because an infection could accompany an injury. However, until now, a receptor with this function had not been found.
Dr Caetano Reis e Sousa, of Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute, said: “After a 15-year hunt, we’ve identified the first “danger receptor” – one which senses abnormal cell death and then triggers an immune response.
“The detection of “danger” could explain some situations when a tumour triggers an immune reaction against itself.”
Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, Dr Lesley Walker, added: “The concept of using the body’s immune system to fight cancer has been around for decades, but advances in recent years have made this field of research a very exciting one.
“The results of this study are really important scientifically and a step towards understanding how to manipulate the immune system to treat cancer in the future.”
Copyright Press Association 2009