There is interesting new evidence from the Scripps Research Institute which suggest that the immune system of healthy seniors would hold the clues for beating the most aggressive form of breast cancer. It says that some seniors have likely fought off cancer successfully without even knowing it “ in the process that have developed antibodies that could hold promising avenues for new cancer therapies.
For their research, scientists at Scripps have started mining the DNA from the blood samples from healthy adults aged 80+ years “ the so called ˜wellderly' to unveil the secret to their long lives. In this process, they have found antibodies which bond with a type of cancer for which there is no targeted therapy.
This research is funded by two grants from the California Breast Cancer Research Program, managed by the UC Office of the President and supported in part by taxpayer donations on the state tax return.
The broader wellderly study is ongoing at Scripps Research and is led by Professor Eric Topol.
Brunie Felding, an investigator at Scripps said that he was always of the opinion that the human immune system is really our best defense against cancer. But, when he saw the so called ˜wellderly' he wondered if these people have antibodies which hold the key to their long healthy life. And that is definitely something scientists should look into.
Battles fought and won:
When the white blood cells from the blood samples of cancer-free wellderly were analysed, some interesting things were noted. Felding says that those finding amount to past victories against cancer.
When subjected to an “immune library” generated from the wellderly blood samples, a particular protein in aggressive “triple negative” breast cancer cells was recognized by an antibody from the wellderly and sparked particular interest. This cancer cell protein is a part of a signaling pathway. Felding is hopeful that this could be a driving pathway in this form of cancer “ it is an indicator to show a way to therapeutic targets.
Exploring the antibody memory
The idea that healthy older women could have successfully fought cancer without even knowing was a novel one. This is how the human immune system works “ when a pathogen enters a human body, the body creates antibodies to combat and neutralize it. These antibodies stay in the immune memory even after the pathogen is gone; it is useful in case the pathogen comes back. A similar principle applies in cancer development.
Felding is of the opinion that if there were aberrant cells at some point in a person’s body, but a noticeable cancer never developed, it is likely that the immune system handled those stray cells. However, the antibody memory would be there for years to come.
For this study, researchers were specifically looking for how the body deals with one of the most dreaded form of breast cancer “ known as triple negative breast cancer. Since, there are no targeted therapies for triple negative tumors, finding an effective therapy for it is one of the main goals for this research.
The cancer cells that were exposed to the wellderly immune library belong to a very aggressive triple negative breast cancer of a woman named Elizabeth who was one of Felding’s friends, who succumbed to this disease. When the genome of Elizabeth’s cancer was looked at, Felding and her group saw that the protein Apolipoprotein E, or ApoE, was more than one-hundred-fold enriched during the progression of Elizabeth’s breast cancer. The interesting noted by the researchers was that this protein was recognized by some of the wellderly antibodies.
There are two likely conclusions one could derive from it – the antibodies that recognize ApoE could have come disease-blocking properties and could hold useful in designing a targeted therapy. Or it may be that ApoE is a flashing signpost pointing researchers down a pathway to be analyzed as a possible disease driver. The concept is very promising says Felding.
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