Immune cells undergo ‘spontaneous’ changes on a daily basis that could lead to cancers if not for the diligent surveillance of our immune system, Melbourne scientists have found.
The research team from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute found that the immune system was responsible for eliminating potentially cancerous immune B cells in their early stages, before they developed into B-cell lymphomas (also known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas). The results of the study were published today in the journal Nature Medicine.
This immune surveillance accounts for what researchers at the institute call the ‘surprising rarity’ of B-cell lymphomas in the population, given how often these spontaneous changes occur. The discovery could lead to the development of an early-warning test that identifies patients at high risk of developing B-cell lymphomas, enabling proactive treatment to prevent tumours from growing.
Dr Kallies said the discovery provided an answer to why B-cell lymphomas occur in the population less frequently than expected. “Each and every one of us has spontaneous mutations in our immune B cells that occur as a result of their normal function,” Dr Kallies said. “It is then somewhat of a paradox that B cell lymphoma is not more common in the population.
“Our finding that immune surveillance by T cells enables early detection and elimination of these cancerous and pre-cancerous cells provides an answer to this puzzle, and proves that immune surveillance is essential to preventing the development of this blood cancer.”