New potential weapon found in battle against cancer and inflammatory diseases


QIMR Berghofer-led research has discovered the pivotal role played by an important immune system protein that, if harnessed through immunotherapy, has the potential to treat a wide range of cancers and inflammatory diseases.

The researchers had been working on the tropical parasitic diseases malaria and leishmaniasis when they discovered that the Natural Killer Cell Granule Protein (NKG7) played an important role in a range of diseases.

Professor Christian Engwerda, who is the Acting Head of QIMR Berghofer’s Infectious Diseases program, said his team found that when the NKG7 protein was turned off it reduced inflammation in mice, but if it was stimulated it enhanced the immune response.

“NKG7 is a key promoter of inflammation, which is the basis of many of the diseases we encounter including cancers, autoimmune diseases, neurological diseases and infectious diseases,” Professor Engwerda said.

“The protein was first identified a few decades ago, but no one had worked out that it was a key weapon of the immune system that’s really important for controlling tumours and infections and for helping current medicines work well.

“It does this by delivering the toxic agents from immune cells to targeted disease cells. Our research shows that in cancer, the protein is activated when patients are treated with drugs that switch on the immune system to deliver cancer-killing agents to tumours.

“In autoimmune and other inflammatory diseases where the immune system is overactive, the NKG7 protein is too active, and we found by blocking it in mice, inflammatory damage was reduced.”

The research was conducted in mice and human blood samples collected from leishmaniasis patients in India. The researchers found leishmaniasis patients expressed high levels of the molecule in their blood.

Co-lead author, QIMR Berghofer Senior Scientist and Immunology Department Coordinator, Professor Mark Smyth, said the findings opened the way for new immunotherapies.

“NKG7 is expressed on different immune cells at different stages of disease and our study showed that targeting the protein by blocking its function would be a new way to dampen inflammation in diseases,” he said.

“Activating it on the other hand would enhance the immune response during some infectious diseases and cancer.

“Our research showed some cancer patients who responded well to certain immunotherapies expressed high levels of this molecule in the immune cells attacking their tumours, indicating it can play a role in preventing cancer metastasis.

“The challenge now is to explore what drugs can be used to manipulate the protein in the immune system, so doctors can either turn it on or off, depending on the disease or condition.”

Professor Engwerda said the research demonstrated the value of studying a broad range of diseases, including those that don’t directly affect Australians.

“Apart from it being important for us to play our part as global citizens by trying to find cures for diseases impacting the developing world, this study shows research into any illness can expand our understanding of the immune system and the biology of disease,” he said.

The research was led in collaboration with the Institute of Medical Sciences at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India, as part of a long-standing India-Australia relationship.

The study has been published in the journal Nature Immunology.

The research was partly funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the National Institutes of Health (USA), QIMR Berghofer and the Queensland Government.

Community Health & Wellness Science & Research

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute :
PO Royal Brisbane Hospital, Brisbane, QLD, 4029, Brisbane
07 3845 3752
QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
Showing 10+ recent articles for this business
Every pregnancy helps reduce endometrial cancer risk 17 November 2020 | New QIMR Berghofer research has found each additional pregnancy a woman experiences, including those that result in miscarriage, can help reduce her risk of developing endometrial cancer. More information...
No genetic signs that hearing loss causes Alzheimer’s disease 14 October 2020 | New QIMR Berghofer and QUT research has found there is no strong genetic evidence that hearing loss causes Alzheimer’s disease, despite both conditions sharing a significant number of genetic variants. More information...
Some school anti-bullying programs may do more harm than good 23 October 2020 | New QIMR Berghofer analysis of research on school anti-bullying programs has concluded that programs that encourage bystanders to intervene may inadvertently harm the children they are aimed at protecting. More information...
Melanoma risk not as obvious as some think 20 October 2020 | New QIMR Berghofer research has found almost a quarter of the Queensland population underestimates their risk of developing potentially deadly melanomas – with those at highest risk also the worst at predicting... More information...
Study finds ways to reduce the risk of common Queensland skin tumour 08 October 2020 | New QIMR Berghofer research has found limiting sun exposure, quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol could help Queenslanders avoid developing the common skin tumour keratoacanthoma (KA). More information...
Researchers get a better grip on left and right handedness 29 September 2020 | In the largest study of its kind to date, researchers have identified 48 genetic variants that influence if a person is left-handed, right-handed or ambidextrous. More information...
New potential weapon found in battle against cancer and inflammatory diseases 24 August 2020 | QIMR Berghofer-led research has discovered the pivotal role played by an important immune system protein that, if harnessed through immunotherapy, has the potential to treat a wide range of cancers and inflamma... More information...
Brain cancer clinical trial gives hope to patients 13 August 2020 | Queensland researchers have found that patients who received a cellular immunotherapy for the deadly brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) in a clinical trial on average survived longer than would have been... More information...
Pessimistic outlook on life linked to life expectancy 29 July 2020 | A new QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute study has found people who are strongly pessimistic about the future are at greater risk of dying earlier than those who are not pessimists. More information...
New keys found for unlocking head and neck cancer treatment 28 July 2020 | QIMR Berghofer scientists say the discovery of new cellular immunotherapy targets for a deadly type of head and neck cancer, caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), could lead to better survival rates. More information...

comments powered by Disqus

All articles submitted by third parties or written by My Sunshine Coast come under our Disclaimer / Terms of Service