11:37am Wednesday 08 July 2020

Natural killer cells used to attack spreading cancers

The key finding published today in Nature is that the spread of cancer cells can be markedly reduced by targeting the biochemical activity of a class of receptors called TAM receptors.

The finding came from studying natural killer cells, a type of blood cell that can induce the death of cancer cells.

Co-author, Research Professor Wally Langdon from The University of Western Australia School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine said it was found that mice without healthy versions of another protein called Cbl-b, had natural killer cells that had a heightened ability to prevent the spread of cancer cells. 

“It was then discovered that the Cbl-b protein regulates the activity of TAM receptors, and therefore the anti-cancer effect seen in Cbl-b mutant mice might be mediated through its effects on TAM receptors,” Professor Langdon said. 

To test this possibility the team developed a new drug, a highly selective TAM inhibitor that blocked the receptors. It was found that treating mice with the TAM inhibitor resulted in a significant reduction in the spread of melanoma and breast cancer cells. 

“These finding reveal that a drug such as the TAM inhibitor can awaken the immune system’s ability to kill spreading cancer cells, therefore providing an additional approach to enhance cancer treatment,” Professor Langdon said.  

Media references

Professor Wally Langdon (School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine)         (+61 8) 9346 2939

David Stacey (UWA Public Affairs)                                (+61 8) 6488 3229  /  (+61 4) 32 637 716


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