A group of researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has found a groundbreaking discovery that could pave the way for more effective cancer treatments.
Their study, recently published in Nature Communications, explains the role of a tiny molecule called microRNA, specifically ‘let-7.’ This little molecule bolsters our immune system’s ability to identify and remember cancer cells.
Scientists Find A Pivotal RNA Strand For Cancer Immunotherapy
T-Cells and Their Memory
“Imagine your body as a fortress guarded by specialized T-cell cells. These T-cells have a remarkable mission: they combat both invading pathogens, such as the common cold, and mischievous cells within our bodies, like tumor cells,” states Leonid Pobezinsky, associate professor of veterinary and animal sciences at UMass Amherst and the paper’s senior author, along with Elena Pobezinskaya, a research assistant professor also in veterinary and animal sciences at UMass.
Most of the time, T-cells are in a “naïve” state, taking a break from their protective duties. However, when they detect unfamiliar intruders, they spring into action. These encounters with foreign substances, known as antigens, wake them up, causing them to transform into killer T-cells.
These killer T-cells go on the offensive. They attack and eliminate the threat, whether a minor cold or a severe condition like COVID-19 or cancer. However, after tackling a threat, these killer T-cells die.
But here’s where it gets interesting. A select few T-cells survive and undergo a remarkable transformation, becoming memory cells. They band together to form an elite squad called the memory pool. These cells have a unique superpower: they remember the appearance of the specific antigen they encountered. This memory allows them to remain vigilant and defend the body if the same antigen returns.
The Vaccine Strategy
Vaccines teach memory cells to recognize and fight the invader. By introducing a weakened form of a pathogen like the chickenpox virus into the body, vaccines teach memory cells to recognize and fight the invader. Once the virus is defeated, these memory cells return to their dormant state.
How T-Cells Form Memories?
While these mechanisms have been known for some time, the exact process through which T-cells form memories has yet to be uncovered.
Cancerous tumor cells are not to be underestimated. They can deceive killer T-cells, preventing them from forming a memory pool. This leaves cancer free to spread and grow unchecked in the body.
The Crucial Role of MicroRNA ‘let-7’
Researchers have made an astonishing discovery: memory cells express high levels of let-7. The more let-7 a cell contains, the less susceptible it is to the deceitful tactics of cancerous tumor cells. This high level of let-7 increases the likelihood of a cell becoming a memory cell. These memory cells fight cancer and crucially remember the characteristics of the cancerous cells they discover.
Longevity of Memory Cells
What’s truly phenomenal is that memory cells have remarkable staying power. They exhibit stem-cell-like qualities. They can persist and live up to an astonishing 70 years.
Future of Immunotherapy
Lead author Alexandria Wells, a postdoctoral fellow at the Cancer Research Institute, is brimming with excitement about the importance of this research. She believes that understanding how to manipulate let-7 during treatment could enhance our immune system’s memory and capabilities. It could lead to exceptional advancements in the next generation of immunotherapies.
In summary, this discovery provides critical insights into the inner workings of our immune system. It opens up promising avenues for further research and developing more effective cancer treatments. As scientists continue to unravel the mysteries of our immune system, we may be one step closer to defeating cancer and other harmful diseases.
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