Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have found evidence that proteins known to play a key role in helping the immune system recognize abnormal cells may have an important relationship with cancer.
The findings are still years away from having any practical applications but may eventually open the door to developing new ways of fighting cancer, said Dr. Kurt Isselbacher, who heads the hospital's cancer program.
"If we could manipulate the proteins . . . you could influence the way a tumor cell behaves," Isselbacher said. "But we have a lot more work to do."
The proteins, known as human lymphocyte antigens or transplantation antigens, have long been known to aid the immune system in recognizing and destroying foreign or abnormal cells, including cancer cells, and in determining whether the body rejects transplanted tissue, such as organs.
But in research published in the the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Isselbacher and his colleagues reported that studies in the test tube and mice indicate that the proteins appear to influence the growth of cancer cells independently of the immune system.