Lipids: The New Target For Cancer Immunotherapy

Lipids, rather than proteins, expressed by leukemia cells are a promising new target for T cell-driven cancer immunotherapy.

AsianScientist (Jun 24, 2014) – Scientists at A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) have discovered a new class of lipids in the leukemia cells that opens up possibilities for leukemia immunotherapy.

Leukemia is characterized by the accumulation of cancer cells originating from blood cells, in the blood or bone marrow. Current treatments for leukemia largely involve chemotherapy to eradicate all cancer cells, followed by stem cell transplants to restore healthy blood cells in the patients.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the team co-led by Dr. Lucia Mori and Prof. Gennaro De Libero identified a new class of lipids, methyl-lysophosphatidic acids (mLPA), which accumulate in leukemia cells. They also identified a specific group of immune cells, described as mLPA-specific T cells, that are capable of recognising the mLPA in the leukemia cells, triggering an anti-cancer immune response and limiting cancer progression.

Thus far, only proteins in cancer cells have been known to activate T cells. Unlike proteins, lipids in cancer cells do not differ between individuals, indicating that the recognition of mLPA by mLPA-specific T cells happens in all leukemia patients. This new mode of cancer cell recognition suggests that the T cells can potentially be harnessed for a leukemia immunotherapy that is effective in all patients.

“The identification of mLPA and its role in activating specific T cells is novel. This knowledge not only sheds light on future leukemia studies, but also complements ongoing leukemia immunotherapy studies focusing on proteins in cancer cells,” said Dr. Lucia Mori, Principal Investigator at SIgN.

“Current treatments run the risk of failure due to re-growth of residual leukemia cells that survive after stem cell transplants. T cell immunotherapy may serve as a complementary treatment for more effective and safer therapeutic approach towards leukemia.”

The article can be found at: Lepore et al. (2014) A Novel Self-Lipid Antigen Targets Human T Cells Against CD1c+ Leukemias.


Source: A*STAR; Photo: NIAID/Flickr/CC.
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