Assessing one's own body defense against tumors is the idea of cancer immunotherapy. This approach was used by a research team from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (IMBA) together with international colleagues. They examined a substance that plays an important role in the human nervous system, blockade of "happiness hormones", dopamine and serotonin.
Two active substances regulate the immune system
Research shows that one building block of this happiness hormone, BH4, activates the immune system. Because BH4 turns T cells on and off, says biologist Shane Cronin from IMBA, the lead author of the study. "If there is a lot of BH4, then the T cells turn on, they are ready to fight and become aggressive," says Cronin.
Cell biologist and his colleagues at the IMBA, Harvard University and the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg were able to identify two active ingredients that use this mechanism and thus regulate the immune system. "BH4 is already available on the market for a different purpose," says Cronin. The second active ingredient was discovered and tested by the scientists themselves. You can now selectively turn T cells on and off.
The IMBA film on research results
An important candidate for the treatment of cancer
This makes BH4 an important candidate for future cancer immunotherapy, because active T cells detect and fight cancer cells. Initial experiments on mice have been successful. The second drug, which Cronin and his colleagues discovered, works exactly the opposite: it regulates BH4 and turns off the immune system.
By reducing BH4, you can regulate the overactivity of T cells that attack healthy cells in the body in autoimmune diseases, says Cronin. In inflammatory disease of ulcerative colitis, in multiple sclerosis, in allergies and asthma, scientists have already been successful in the mouse model. The new drug not only turned off BH4, and therefore T cells, but calmed the entire immune system. Both therapeutic approaches, those against autoimmune diseases and against cancer, will be clinically tested in the next few years.
Also possible as an anti-depressant
If the drugs are successful in the patient, they can enter the market in a few years. In the meantime, Cronin wants to continue his research in a different direction: Because BH4 affects the serotonin "happiness" and thus the mood of people, the biologist wants to study the relationship between the immune system and the nervous system in more detail.
"Perhaps we can also increase serotonin levels in the brain with the same or similar drug," says Cronin. This could not only bring progress in the treatment of depression, but also in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, and thus the hope of the researcher.
Marlene Nowotny, Ö1-Wissenschaft