Certain tumors exhibit a growth-regression-recurrence pattern. Immune cells, called killer cells, mediate regression of the tumor but cannot completely eliminate the cancer. The mechanism by which such tumors escape surveillance by the killer cells is not known. In the December issue of Nature Immunology (Vol. 1, No. 6, 01 Dec 2000), scientists from the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, USA, used a mouse tumor model, in which the tumor spontaneously regresses and then recurs, to study this phenomenon.
Scientists have implicated a protein called interleukin 13 (IL-13) in helping tumors to evade the killer cells. Rare cells, called natural killer T (NKT) cells, were found to be major producers of IL-13 in the body and it was discovered that depletion of IL-13 or NKT cells protects mice from tumor recurrence. The mechanism by which IL-13 reduces killer cell efficiency has yet to be determined. However, it is clear that therapies that can inhibit IL-13 production may be a useful tool in the fight against cancer.
A News & Views was written on this paper by Mark J. Smyth of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute, Australia.
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