Montréal, November 16, 2015 – By studying a type of immune cells, a team of researchers at the IRCM led by André Veillette, MD, identified the mechanism of action for a new target for novel immune-oncology treatments. Their discovery is published today in the print edition of the scientific journal the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
The researchers study natural killer (NK) cells, which are crucial to the immune system and protect the body by destroying cancer cells. The team is more specifically interested in a protein called DNAM-1 that plays a key role in the elimination of cancer cells.
"We discovered the mechanism by which the DNAM-1 protein stimulates the function of NK cells and, thus, increases their capacity to eliminate cancer cells," says Dr. Veillette, Director of the Molecular Oncology research unit at the IRCM.
The DNAM-1 protein is a receptor located at the surface of NK cells. It competes with other receptors that also want to interact with cancer cells, such as the TIGIT receptor that, on the contrary, reduces the efficiency of NK cells.
"When the TIGIT receptor interacts with an infected cell, it prevents its interaction with the DNAM-1 protein, which, as a result, suppresses the function of NK cells and slows the immune system," explains Dr. Veillette.
Recent discoveries have led to the development of several immuno-oncology treatments (or cancer immunotherapy), which use antibodies to improve the immune system's natural function. Some of these antibodies, namely anti-CTLA-4 or anti-PD-1 antibodies, have already shown lasting benefits for many cancer patients.
"Our results reveal how antibodies against TIGIT could become new therapies in immune-oncology," adds Dr. Veillette. "These antibodies could improve the function of the DNAM-1 protein, thereby improving the ability of NK cells to destroy tumour cells. This type of therapy could have a significant impact on the next generation of cancer treatments."
About the study
Dr. Veillette's research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute and the Canada Research Chairs program. The project was conducted at the IRCM by Zhanguang Zhang (first author of the study), Ning Wu, Yan Lu, Dominique Davidson and André Veillette, in collaboration with Marco Colonna from Washington University School of Medicine.
For more information, please refer to the article's summary published online by the Journal of Experimental Medicine: http://jem.rupress.org/content/early/2015/11/04/jem.20150792.abstract.
About André Veillette
André Veillette obtained his medical degree from the Université Laval. He is Full IRCM Research Professor and Director of the Molecular Oncology research unit. Dr. Veillette is full research professor in the Department of Medicine (accreditation in molecular biology) at the Université de Montréal. He is also adjunct professor in the Department of Medicine (Division of Experimental Medicine) at McGill University. Dr. Veillette holds the Canada Research Chair in Immune System Signalling. For more information, visit http://www.ircm.qc.ca/veillette.
About the IRCM
The IRCM is a renowned biomedical research institute located in the heart of Montréal's university district. Founded in 1967, it is currently comprised of 35 research units and four specialized research clinics (cholesterol, cystic fibrosis, diabetes and obesity, hypertension). The IRCM is affiliated with the Université de Montréal, and the IRCM Clinic is associated to the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM). It also maintains a long-standing association with McGill University. The IRCM is funded by the Quebec ministry of Economy, Innovation and Export Trade (Ministère de l'Économie, de l'Innovation et des Exportations).