Our disease-fighting immune system is composed of different types of white blood cells, constantly on alert throughout our body. T cells lead the defence but can sometimes be thwarted. By studying breast cancer in mice, scientists are unravelling how this happens. The tumour (stained red) produces a protein called a tumour antigen. But T cells (pink) can’t ‘see’ this antigen until it’s been ingested by specialised cells (shown in green). Destruction of the tumour is usually triggered when T cells start interacting with these antigen-gobbling cells (interaction shown here as white and blue patches). However, with some types of cancer, this communion actually prevents T cells working, allowing the tumour to grow and spread to other organs. Knowing which cells impede T cells in this way could help scientists develop treatments to lift the barrier and boost the body’s defence.
Written by Roz Pidcock
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