"In this case, we found that over-expression of galectin-1 inhibits the innate immune system, and this allows the tumor to grow enough to evade any possible effective T cell response," he explains. "By the time it's detected, the battle is already lost."
The NK-evading "stealth" function of the extra-thick coating of galectin-1 came as a surprise, because glioma researchers everywhere had assumed the extra protein had more to do with the insidious ability of gliomas to invade the brain, and to evade the attacks of T cells.
Gliomas, which make up about 80 percent of all malignant brain tumors, include anaplastic oligodendrogliomas, anaplastic astrocytomas, and glioblastoma multiforme. More than 24,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with a primary malignant brain tumor each year.
The tiny tendrils of tumor that extend into brain tissue from a glioma are what make them so dangerous. Even when a neurosurgeon removes the bulk of the tumor, small invasive areas escape detection and keep growing, unchecked by the body.
Helping the innate immune system to recognize early stages of cancer growth, and sound the alarm for the body's defense system to act while the remaining cancer is still small enough for them to kill, could potentially help patients.
While the new discovery opens the door to that kind of approach, much work needs to be done before the mouse-based research could help human patients, says Lowenstein, who is the Richard Schneider Collegiate Professor in Neurosurgery and also holds an appointment in the U-M Department of Cell and Developmental Biology. Galectin-1 may help other types of tumor evade the innate NK cells, too
The new research suggests that in the brain's unique environment, galectin-1 creates an immunosuppressive effect immediately around tumor cells. The brain can
|Contact: Kara Gavin|
University of Michigan Health System