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Researchers Use Nanotechnology To Discover New Cancer Cell Defense Process

A study conducted by the researchers at the Brigham and Women's Hospital has discovered that cancer cells always disable the immune cells that attack them. The study was conducted by using nanotechnology research infrastructure, which has been funded by the U.S National Science Foundation.

The research team found that the cancer cells removed the mitochondria, which is the main energy source of the immune cells by using tiny, tentacle-like tubes that formed a connection between the two.

Commenting on the research findings, Hae Lin Jing, co-author of the study, said, "By carefully preserving the cell culture condition and observing intracellular structures, we saw these delicate nanotubes and they were stealing the immune cells' energy source. It was very exciting because this kind of behavior had never been observed before in cancer cells. This was a tough project as the nanotubes are fragile and we had to handle the cells very gently to not break them."

During the research process, the team made use of electron microscopy to study the communications between cancer cells and immune cells at the nanoscale, while conducting experiments between living co-cultured breast cancer cells and immune cells. The study revealed that cancer cells had tendrils/tentacles measuring 100 and 1000 nanometers. The team observed that cancer cells defended against attacks by making use of these tiny tentacles to pull the mitochondria out of the immune cells, thus strengthening them and weakening the immune cells. Researchers feel that this study could pave the way for the next generation of cancer fighting immunotherapies.

Corresponding author Shiladitya Sengupta said, "Cancer kills when the immune system is suppressed and cancer cells are able to metastasize, and it appears that nanotubes can help them do both. This is a completely new mechanism by which cancer cells evade the immune system and it gives us a new target to go after."

In their next study, the researchers plan to examine what would happen if the cancer cells were stopped from disarming the immune cells. This research is expected to bring positive results for further modes of treatment.

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