The Akt protein is crucial for T cells to transform into memory T cells.
The authors of a recent study discovered a new way to harness the immune system to better recognize and fight cancer cells.
In the study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the investigators found that the Akt protein is crucial for the body to remember a cancer that it has previously fought.
Cytotoxic T cells seek out and stop infections and cancer. After the pathogen is successfully destroyed, the remaining T cells turn into memory cells that remember how to eliminate it if it returns.
Without these cells, a simple bacteria or virus would take hold and cause substantial damage to the body. When the cells are functioning properly, they are able to recognize a pathogen, and employ the most effective method to kill it.
The mechanisms behind the shift from T cells to memory T cells was previously unclear. The investigators believe that their new findings suggest that Akt effects the number and type of memory T cells generated by exposure to a pathogen, according to the study.
“If we can harness Akt to boost the memory cells in numbers and ability we could offer more protection against cancer,” said researcher Aymen Al-Shamkhani, PhD.
Immunotherapy has become increasingly popular for cancer treatment, since it leverages the immune system to kill the cancer cells rather than other compounds. These treatments also typically have a reduced rate of adverse events compared with more toxic treatments that can also affect healthy cells, such as chemotherapy or radiation.
“Immunotherapy has shown great promise as a new type of treatment for cancer, but we need to find ways to improve the body’s immune memory for cancer cells,” Dr Al-Shamkhani said. “If we can get the body’s immune system to recognise [sic] cancers faster and better, that will be a big help in finding more effective treatments.”
In an animal study, the researchers found that decreased Akt activity stopped the transition from T cell to memory T cell. They also discovered that reduced memory T cell survival and altered memory cell differentiation was linked to an increased expression of the Bim protein and eomesodermin, a T-box transcription factor, according to the study.
These findings suggest that Akt plays a key role in transforming T cells into memory cells, which could be harnessed to improve cancer treatment, and prevent recurrence.
“By revealing more about how the immune system learns to recognise and attack cancers, this laboratory study may have identified a way to make immunotherapy more effective and longer-lasting,” said Justine Alford, PhD, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK. The next step will be to see if this approach works, and is safe for patients.”