Researchers from the Centre for Research in Experimental Medicine (CeRMS) of the Città della Salute of Turin and the Department of Molecular Biotechnology and Health Sciences of the University of Turin have discovered how to allow anti-tumour killer lymphocytes to infiltrate tumour tissue and eliminate it. The study is published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.
Pancreatic cancer is rightly called the ‘silent killer’. The reason for this name derives from the fact that it has no specific symptoms when it occurs, or rather, when symptoms do appear they are often associated with a very advanced stage of the disease. The reason may be that, from its very origin, pancreatic cancer is characterised by an intricate collection of different types of cells surrounding it and forming what is known as the ‘tumour microenvironment’. In the microenvironment, numerous genetic and metabolic programmes are turned on, which provide an enormous advantage to tumour growth and at the same time prevent anti-tumour killer T lymphocytes from ‘infiltrating’ the tumour tissue, confining them to the outside and preventing them from recognising and eliminating it.
Coordinated by Professors Paola Cappello and Francesco Novelli, the researchers involved in this study have shown that blocking interleukin 17A, an important messenger of communication between the cells of the immune system and between them and surrounding cells, changes the tumour ‘microenvironment’ and in particular the behaviour of one type of cells, the fibroblasts. These cells are particularly abundant in pancreatic cancer and are responsible of the deposition of a complex and compact network of fibres, the so-called ‘matrix’, which represents the greatest obstacle to the entry of anti-tumour killer lymphocytes as well to the diffusion of drugs used for treatment.