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Immune system can drive cancers into dormant state
Date:11/18/2007

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Scientists first proposed that the immune system might be able to recognize cancer cells as potentially harmful more than a century ago. Under a theory that came to be called cancer immunosurveillance, researchers suggested that if this recognition took place, the immune system would attack tumors with the same weapons it uses to eliminate invading microorganisms. Current immunotherapy efforts use therapeutic agents to increase the chances that the immune system will recognize and attack tumors.

But cancer immunosurveillance has been controversial. The theory had begun to fall out of favor over the years, and in 2001, Schreiber, graduate students Vijay Shankaran and Gavin Dunn, and Lloyd Old, M.D., director of the New York branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, proposed a major revision. They called their new model cancer immunoediting.

Like the older theory, cancer immunoediting suggests that conflict between cancers and the immune system naturally takes place but proposes that three very different outcomes can result. The immune system can eliminate cancer, destroying it; the immune system can establish equilibrium with cancer, checking its growth but not eradicating it; or the cancer can escape from the immune system, likely becoming more malignant in the process.

Until this latest study, evidence for the second outcome was lacking. Schreiber, Smyth and their colleagues posited equilibrium's existence mainly on the basis of other doctors' clinical experiences. Examples included cancers that inexplicably go into remission for years. In addition, there have been hints that in a few cases organ transplants have transferred undetected dormant tumors to the recipients.

To directly observe dormant tumors in mice, researchers injected them with small doses of a chemical carcinogen. Mice that developed outright tumors were set aside; the remaining mice had small, stable masses at the site of the injection
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Contact: Michael C. Purdy
purdym@wustl.edu
314-286-0122
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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