Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in the UK have uncovered how cancer cells protect themselves from oncolytic viruses that are harmful to tumors, but not to healthy cells. These findings could lead to improved viral treatments for cancers. In their study, published online on June 1, 2020 in Nature Cell Biology (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41556-020-0527-7), the researchers identified a mechanism that protects cancer cells from oncolytic viruses, which preferentially infect and kill cancer cells. The article is titled “Cancer Cells Cause Inflammation to Protect Themselves from Viruses.” These oncolytic viruses are sometimes used as a treatment to destroy cancer cells and stimulate an immune response against the tumor. However, they only work in a minority of patients and the reasons why they are effective or not are not yet fully understood. The research team examined the environment surrounding a tumor and how cancer cells interact with their neighbors, in particular, with cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer-associated_fibroblast), which researchers know play a significant role in cancer protection, growth, and spread. The researchers found that when cancer cells are in direct contact with CAFs, this leads to inflammation that can alert the surrounding tissue, making it harder for viruses to invade and replicate within the cancer cell. This protective inflammatory response occurs when cancer cells pass small amounts of their cytoplasm through to the CAFs. This triggers the fibroblasts to signal to nearby cells to release cytokines, molecules that cause inflammation.
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