UMass Amherst study reveals small RNA’s vital role in fighting cancer

Let-7 boosts tumor-fighting CD8 T cells in mice.


Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that a tiny piece of genetic material called let-7 controls how our immune cells, called T-cells, remember and recognize cancer cells. This memory is crucial for vaccines and fighting cancer. Boosting this memory could make cancer treatments better. Their study, published in Nature Communications, offers a fresh approach to the future of cancer immunotherapies.

“Think of the human body as a fortress,” said Leonid Pobezinsky, a professor at UMass Amherst. Inside, we have special white blood cells called T-cells. They fight off things like the common cold and even cancer. Usually, these T-cells are resting, like soldiers off duty. But when they encounter something foreign, like a virus, they wake up, become “killer” T-cells, and attack it. After the fight, most of them die.

But some survive and become “memory” cells. They remember what the invader looked like so they can fight it off better next time. This is how vaccines work. They give you a virus so your memory cells can remember and fight it later.

However, we just now fully understood how T-cells create these memories.

Cancer cells can outsmart our immune system’s killer T-cells, preventing them from creating a memory of the cancer. But researchers have found something important: a tiny piece of genetic material called let-7 can help T-cells resist this trickery. The more let-7 a T-cell has, the better it is at fighting cancer and remembering what cancer cells look like.

Memory cells can last a very long, even up to 70 years. This discovery is exciting for understanding how our immune system works and developing better cancer treatments. Alexandria Wells, the lead author, believes that boosting let-7 during treatment could enhance our immune system’s memory and effectiveness in fighting cancer. The National Institutes of Health supported this research.

UMass Amherst’s groundbreaking research into the significance of small RNA in cancer treatment offers hope for more effective and targeted approaches to combat this devastating disease. The newfound understanding of Let-7’s role in enhancing anti-tumor immune responses and preventing terminal differentiation is a promising avenue for further advancements in cancer therapies, potentially improving outcomes for patients battling cancer.

Journal Reference:

  1. Wells, A.C., Hioki, K.A., Angelou, C.C. et al. Let-7 enhances murine anti-tumor CD8 T cell responses by promoting memory and antagonizing terminal differentiation. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-40959-7.
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