They are first class at fighting infections. However, neutrophils, specialized phagocytic white blood cells of the immune system, can also promote the growth of cancer. A research team led by Professor Sven Brandau from the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic of the University Hospital Essen (UK Essen) has now been able to show this for the first time in human tumour tissue.
„It was already known that cancer patients that have many of these immune cells migrated into their tumour tissue have reduced survival rates”, says Sven Brandau, head of the Department of Experimental und Translational Research. „Therefore, experts suspected that those phagocytic cells, the so-called neutrophils, could inhibit the fight of the killer immune cells against cancer.“
Using advanced microscopy technologies and analyses, Brandau and his collaborators have now uncovered the interaction between the neutrophils and killer cells in tumour tissue. „We were able to show that the neutrophils actually touch the killer cells and prevent the killing of the cancer cells.“
In future investigations, the researchers at the UK Essen would like to block the entry of the phagocytes into the tumour tissue in order to develop novel immunotherapies against cancer.