Researchers in Australia have identified a mechanism that blocks natural killer (NK) cells, a type of immune cell, from attacking cancer. Switching off this mechanism had a dramatic effect on mice with skin, prostate and breast cancers: The action of the NK cells against the cancer cells in the tumours was stepped up. This prevented the spread of cancer to vital organs in the body, and the development of metastases. In the mice with breast cancer, tumour growth in the mammary glands was significantly reduced.

Lead scientist, Dr Nicholas Huntington, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Parkville, Victoria, said: “This is about learning how to activate the NK cells of the individual patient and boost their immune system to tackle the disease.

“We are hopeful our research will lead to new immunotherapies that supercharge the body’s natural killer cell, and maintain it in a highly active state to more efficiently and specifically fight cancer.”

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