Molecule Found in Cancer Cells May Hold Key to Treating Neuroblastoma, Study

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cancer cellsAccording to a study recently published in Cancer Research, researchers suggest that a new molecule found in neuroblastoma cells may hold the key to developing an effective treatment for the disease.

To conduct the study, researchers analyzed blood and tumor samples from 26 patients with neuroblastoma—a rare cancer that affects young children. Scientists discovered a molecule called arginase that affects the level of arginine found in the area surrounding a tumor. Arginine is the key source of energy for the immune system (without energy, the immune system becomes ineffective.)

Researchers discovered that almost all neuroblastoma cells have a molecule called GDC on their surface that will distinguish them from healthy cells. Scientists believe that they can use its unique properties to train the body’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

The study’s co-author, Dr. Carmela De Santo, hopes that these findings will help pave the way for new effective treatments that target the cancer’s kryptonite abilities, stating, “Now, the challenge is to develop new drugs which stop neuroblastoma from using arginine, and may make immune therapy more effective.”

More than 650 cases of neuroblastoma are diagnosed in the U.S. every year—approximately one in every 7,000 births. Between 1975 and 2010, the five-year survival rate for neuroblastoma increased from 86% to 95% for infants younger than one. The rate jumped from 34% to 68% for children between the ages of one and 14-years-old.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Mussai, F. et al., “Neuroblastoma arginase activity creates an immunosuppressive microenvironment that impairs autologous and engineered immunity,” Cancer Research, doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-14-3443, published online August 1, 2015.
Lam, P., “Neuroblastoma cancer cells weaken immune system like kryptonite,” Medical News Today web site, August 3, 2015;