Science Rocks features AbbVie scientists who share interesting research in their field and why it matters. In this month's feature, Mikkel Algire, Ph.D., senior scientist, AbbVie, discusses how we might re-engineer cells to one day fight cancer.
Your immune system is one of the best cancer fighting tools available. It is very effective at protecting you against diseases, pathogens and cancer by utilizing specialized cells and cellular functions. Your immune system’s ability to see cancers relies on its ability to physically interact with cancer cells and the environment. These interactions usually happen through proteins called receptors that sit on the cell surface. A receptor can detect specific signals from outside the cell and transmit that information inside the cell in order for the cell to respond appropriately, such as destroying a cancerous tumor cell. This sounds simple but one of cancer’s nasty tricks is to evade detection by becoming invisible to your immune system.
To combat this method of cancer evasion, maturing areas of cellular engineering have been used to make genetically modified patient derived T-cells that are now able to again see the cancerous cells and attack them. While this holds promise, tumors find other ways to remain invisible and resist the immune system. What if we could give immune cells new receptors and functions that are not normally seen in nature? Would cancer cells be able to hide from these cells?