Science 2 min read

Immune System Eliminates Genetically Imbalanced Cells, What it Means for Cancer

Jarun Ontakrai |

Jarun Ontakrai |

MIT biologists have discovered an innate response by which the body eliminates cells with chromosomal anomalies. In other words, a mechanism to fight cancer cells might be within the immune system already.

Chromosomal abnormality happens when a cell divides and the chromosomes don’t separate properly, leaving one cell with too many or too few chromosomes. These are referred to as aneuploid cells.

In human embryonic cells, for example, extra copies of chromosomes are almost always fatal, with a few exceptions.

MIT biologists might have discovered the cure for cancer in our immune system.Click To Tweet

Overabundance or Lack of Chromosomes, Neither is Good

Unfortunately, most cancerous tumors are aneuploid cells. Roughly 90% of solid tumors and 75% of bloodborne cancers are composed of aneuploid cells.

In humans, the most common aneuploidy is “Trisomy 21” (or Down Syndrome): the person has 47 chromosomes instead of 46, or 23 pairs. That imbalance could lead to intellectual disabilities, visual and hearing impairments and heart defects.

Conversely, “monosomy” is the absence of one or more chromosomes, which may cause disorders such as Turner’s syndrome.

Turning the Immune System Into a Cure for Cancer

A new research from MIT suggests that the cure for cancer might have been hiding in plain sight this whole time–within the body;s immune system.

A team of biologists at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research have reported that the immune system can create cells capable of eliminating other cells with chromosomal imbalance or aneuploidy.

cure for cancer
Cells dividing into aneuploid cells | Courtesy of Angelika Amon of MIT and Stefano Santaguida of the Koch Institute |

Upon losing or gaining chromosomes, cells immediately send signals, triggering this natural defense mechanism. The immune system responds by recruiting natural killer cells to eliminate these abnormal cells.

The team, whose findings were published in the journal Developmental Cell, aim to develop the knowledge that allows them to replicate this response with cancer cells.

Researchers, however, didn’t say why cancer cells, known to almost always have chromosome deficit or surplus, don’t elicit this same natural response. Perhaps these scientists will have the answers as they study this biological phenomenon further.

Regardless, this discovery could become nothing short of an Industry 4.0 medical breakthrough if the immune system’s innate defenses are able to repurposed to help fight cancer.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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