An immune system balancing act performed by scientists could yield new cancer treatments, experts hope.

Researchers succeeded in harnessing the immune system to attack tumours without harming healthy cells.

Under normal conditions, regulatory T-cells - part of the immune system - help prevent extreme and dangerous auto-immune reactions.

immune system

But this can stop the immune system mounting a strong enough attack on cancer.

Scientists discovered that blocking a particular enzyme can safely reduce the effect of the regulatory cells, known as Tregs.


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By suppressing the enzyme with a drug, they were able to lower Treg function in mice with cancer and at the same time limit tumour growth.

"This preclinical study demonstrates proof of principle that using a drug to regulate the function of a special immunosuppressive subset of so-called T-regulatory (Treg) cells safely controls tumour growth," said US study leader Dr Wayne Hancock, from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "It really moves the field along towards a potentially major, new cancer immunotherapy."

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Medicine.

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  • Eat Fiber From Whole Grains

    Researchers from Britain and the Netherlands found that the more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/13/fiber-colorectal-cancer-risk-whole-grains_n_1089082.html" target="_hplink">total dietary fiber and cereal fiber</a> people consumed, the lower their colorectal cancer risk. For example, people who consumed an extra 90 grams of whole grains a day also had a 20 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer, according to the <em>British Medical Journal</em> review. However, that same study didn't show a link between eating fiber from fruits and vegetables and a lowered colorectal cancer risk, meaning there may be something else in whole grains at work, too.

  • Take Aspirin

    Researchers from the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that people who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/25/aspirin-bowel-cancer-risk_n_1451209.html" target="_hplink">take aspirin once a day</a> have a 30 percent decreased risk of dying from colorectal cancer, if taken for at least a nine-month period. And, the benefit extended to after a person had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The researchers found that people who had already been diagnosed and who took aspirin had a 23 percent decreased risk of dying from the disease, compared with people who didn't take it at all.

  • Eat Chocolate (Maybe)

    The <em>Daily Mail</em> reported on a study in mice, published in the journal <em>Molecular Nutrition and Food Research</em>, showing that rats exposed to a carcinogen <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2091627/Eating-chocolate-stave-bowel-cancer-say-scientists.html" target="_hplink">developed fewer colon cancer lesions</a> than rats if they consumed high-cocoa diets. "Being exposed to different poisons in the diet like toxins, mutagens and procarcinogens, the intestinal mucus is very susceptible to pathologies," study researcher Maria Angeles Martin Arribas, a researcher at the Institute of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition, said <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-01/f-sf-ccp012412.php" target="_hplink">in a statement</a>. "Foods like cocoa, which is rich in polyphenols, seems to play an important role in protecting against disease." However, it's important to note that this effect was tested only on mice.

  • Consume Ginger Root

    Research published in the journal <em>Cancer Prevention Research</em> showed that taking 2 grams of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/10/12/ginger-could-reduce-risk-of-bowel-cancer_n_1006855.html" target="_hplink">ginger root supplement</a> every day might have colon cancer-preventing powers. The researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School found that taking ginger root supplements helped to minimize signs of inflammation of the colon, which has been connected to colon cancer.

  • Go To A Classical Music-Loving Doctor

    A study from the University of Texas Health Science Center showed that doctors who conduct colonoscopies while <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2011/10/31/could-mozart-decrease-your-risk-of-colon-cancer/" target="_hplink">listening to Mozart</a> are more likely to find polyps, which can lead to colon cancer, ABC News reported. The study showed that polyp-detection increased to 36.7 percent from 27.16 percent when the doctors listened to Mozart.

  • Exercise Regularly

    A study in the journal <em>Cancer Causes & Control</em> showed that <a href="http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/colon_cancer/exercise-colon-cancer_6153-1.html" target="_hplink">people who exercise</a> or play sports five or more times a week can lower their risk of developing colorectal cancer, compared with those who don't exercise regularly (or at all), Johns Hopkins University reported. <blockquote>Why exercise might reduce colon cancer risk isn't well understood. It may be because exercise enhances the immune system or because it reduces levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factors, all of which have been associated with colon cancer risk.</blockquote>

  • Eat Your Veggies

    A number of studies have linked the <a href="http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/foods/cruciferous/" target="_hplink">consumption of cruciferous vegetables</a> with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, Oregon State University reported, though the effect may depend on a person's genetic risk. In particular, a study published in 2000 in <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11117618?dopt=Abstract" target="_hplink">the <em>American Journal of Epidemiology</em></a>, showed that people who ate the most cruciferous veggies in a day (about 58 grams per day, on average) had a lower risk of colon cancer compared with people who ate the fewest cruciferous veggies in a day (about 11 grams per day, on average), Oregon State University reported.

  • Enjoy Some Berries (Maybe)

    A study in mice showed that compounds called anthocyanins, found in <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39971798/ns/health-cancer/t/black-raspberries-prevent-colorectal-cancer-mice/#.T61SE59Ytvc" target="_hplink">black raspberries</a>, seem to have powers at anti-colorectal cancer powers, MyHealthNewsDaily reported. The berries may help to <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39971798/ns/health-cancer/t/black-raspberries-prevent-colorectal-cancer-mice/#.T61SE59Ytvc" target="_hplink">prevent cancer</a> because of their "high antioxidant activity," study researcher Gary Stoner, of the College of Medicine at Ohio State University, told MyHealthNewsDaily; those antioxidants work to fight against DNA-damaging free radicals in the body.

  • How to Reduce Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer

    The Doctors and USA Weekend share tips for reducing your risk of colorectal cancer.