How to educate your immune cells 101
When we hear the word ‘education’, we might think about going to school, learning new stuffs and skills, maybe science, or any subjects we like or don’t like.
When immune cells are educated, they also learn new skills: ability to combat cancer cells!
The immune system we possess
Before I talk further about the immune cells education, let me explain how our immune system works briefly.
We, as human, are blessed with two types of immune system, innate and adaptive.
Innate immunity is the first barrier that virus, bacteria and other evil cells have to face when they first enter our body. The defence force includes physical defence, such as mucous secretion when we catch a cold.
Some immune cells are also involved in this group, such as macrophages and dendritic cells. These immune cells can attack foreign cells by devouring them. Om nom nom nom!
The second type is called adaptive immunity. The specialty of this immunity is its memory to remember foreign cells. Yes, it’s the one that plays role in vaccination. So, when the virus or bacteria re-invade our body, this adaptive immunity can trigger stronger immune reaction. The immune cells involve in this immunity is T-cells and B-cells.
The key thing here is adaptive immunity has to be activated first by innate immune cells. Macrophages and dendritic cells have the ability to munch on foreign cells, process, and present parts of those cells, called antigen, through surface molecules called MHC (see figure below). These presented molecules are then recognised by T- and B-cells, so they can memorise the identity of the foreign cells and further kill them when there is future invasion.
Immune cells education vs cancer
Now I’m going to talk about cancer (again).
Researchers have been trying to exploit the antigen-presenting capacity of dendritic cells to activate T-cells to recognise cancer.
Researchers came up with an idea of isolating dendritic cells from cancer patient’s body and introducing them with parts of the cancer cells in the lab. The aim is to ‘educate’ dendritic cells, so they can present the antigen from cancer cells, called neoantigen or tumour-associated antigen.
The educated dendritic cells are then injected back as a vaccine to patients. And this is how Tc cells can be activated to recognise cancer cells and further kill them!
This whole educating process is the main principles of dendritic cells vaccine.
The good news is this dendritic cells vaccine can be used to treat many types of cancer.
Moreover, it’s personalised! It means every patient will have their own dendritic cells educated as vaccine. This will reduce the probability of unwanted reaction.
It’s so fascinating knowing that the cancer cure is actually in our body. We just need to find a way to outsmart the disease, in this case by educating our dendritic cells.