Unlocking the Potential of Ancient Viruses in DNA for Lung Cancer Treatment
Remains of ancient viruses transmitted thousands or even millions of years ago in human DNA could pave the way for better cancer treatments in the future, researchers say.
Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute are studying lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, to understand why some patients respond better to immunotherapy than others.
In a study published in the journal Nature, they found that the remnants of old cells can be activated by cancer cells. They found that this could inadvertently help the immune system target and attack the tumor.
The scientists said these “remarkable” results could be used to help more people survive lung cancer by helping treat or even prevent cancer.
“This work opens up a number of new opportunities to improve patient response to immunotherapy, which is an important step in helping more lung cancer survivors,” said Julian Downward, Associate Director of Research and Head of the Oncogene Biology Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute. .
By monitoring the activity of immune cells in mice with lung cancer and in human lung cancer tumor samples, the researchers found that antibody-producing white blood cells called B cells contribute to the lung cancer’s immune response by producing tumor-binding antibodies.
When they looked at the purpose of this answer, they found that the antibodies recognize proteins expressed by ancient viral DNA known as endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), which make up about 5 percent of the human genome and are transmitted from our body’s historical infections. ancestors.
In most healthy tissues, these viral genes are silent, but in cancer they can be awakened.
“We now know that areas of B cell expansion can help us predict a positive response to checkpoint inhibition,” Downward explained.
“Retroviruses have been lurking as viral traces in the human genome for thousands or millions of years, so it’s exciting to think that the diseases of our ancestors may be the key to curing today’s diseases,” said George Cassiotis, head of the Viral Immunology Lab at the Francis Crick Institute. We can look forward to developing a cancer treatment vaccine consisting of activated autoretroviral (ERV) genes to increase antibody production at the site of a patient’s cancer and hopefully improve immunotherapy outcomes.”
Dr Claire Bromley, of the charity, said more research is needed to develop a cancer vaccine, but added: “However, this research adds to a growing body of research that may one day see this innovative approach to cancer treatment a reality.”
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