A Clemson University study could lead to new immunotherapy for breast cancer. The study, according to the university, provides the foundation of using cells in our bodies to target cancer cells.
Clemson researchers have used the immune system’s natural killer cells — which the body uses to fight off certain types of infections — to go after the breast cancer cells by bridging the two cells with a fusion of proteins the researchers developed.
“The idea is to use this bifunctional protein to bridge the natural killer cells and breast cancer tumor cells,” said Yanzhang “Charlie” Wei, a professor in the College of Science’s Department of Biological Sciences. “If the two cells are brought close enough together through this receptor ligand connection, the natural killer cells can release what I call killing machinery to have the tumor cells killed.”
Breast cancer kills 43,000 women each year in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society and one in eight women and one in 1,000 men will develop invasive breast cancer.
“Very simply, cancer is uncontrolled cell growth. Some cells will become abnormal and have the potential to become cancer,” Wei explained. “The immune system can recognize these abnormal cells and destroy them before they become cancer cells. Unfortunately for those who develop cancer, the immune system is not working very well because of gene mutations and environmental factors. The result is that the cancer cells won the fight between the immune system and the tumors.”
Clemson’s researchers focused on triple-negative breast cancer, the most lethal type of breast cancer, and prolactin receptors.