AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 3, 2017

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When Good Immune Cells Turn Bad

Investigators identify pathway that causes immune cells to support cancer, instead of killing it

Investigators at the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles have identified new findings about an immune cell – called a tumor-associated macrophage – that promotes cancer instead of fighting it. They have identified the molecular pathway, known as STAT3, as the mechanism the immune cell uses to foster neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer, and have demonstrated use of a clinically available agent, ruxolitinib, to block the pathway. 

Neuroblastoma is the second most common solid tumor effecting children. Individuals with high-risk disease have a mortality rate of approximately 50 percent. Certain conditions are associated with high-risk disease. High levels of some chemicals involved with inflammation and the presence of an immune cell called a tumor-associated macrophage (TAM) are associated with high-risk disease and lower survival rates. Macrophages are a type of immune cell that typically function to battle disease, not encourage it.

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