City scientists pioneering new cancer treatment

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Scientists in Sheffield are working on a cutting edge treatment to target pathogen-eating white blood cells that are tricked into promoting tumour growth instead of boosting immunity in cancer patients.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, have developed a way to specifically kill a certain type of white blood cell - known as a macrophage - which switches sides in some cancer patients and promotes tumour growth and spread instead of engulfing and digesting pathogens.

Rather than assisting the body’s immune system, as they do in healthy people, these scavenger white blood cells contain the protein CD68 and have been found to eat away at human tissue - allowing space for the tumour to expand and spread.

Several studies have already looked at ways in which to kill macrophages but success has so far been limited and has produced unwanted side effects.

Now researchers in Sheffield believe they may have developed a new way to kill these cells at any point in disease progression.

Cancer specialist and lecturer Dr Gaynor Miller, who is leading the research alongside Professor Gillian Tozer, said: “We have managed to halve the number of CD68 positive macrophages in several different tissues for up to six weeks with no detrimental side effects.

“We now wish to confirm our hypothesis that CD68 positive macrophages cause tumours to grow and spread by using our new inducible macrophage depletion system in a cancer model.

“If our hypothesis is correct we will halt or slow disease progression and CD68 positive macrophages will become an exciting new target for novel therapies for treating cancer.”

n Relief for cancer patients: see page 18