Feed a Cold, Starve a T-reg

Green, red, and black image of a cell

Research on the immune response in cancer often focuses on the interaction between the individual types of cells involved. For example, scientists might look at how a T cell sees a tumor or how an immune cell sees a cancer cell.

Rather than examining these cells in isolation, Greg Delgoffe, associate professor of immunology at Pitt, published a study in Nature earlier this year that focuses on the chemicals in the area surrounding a tumor, the tumor microenvironment.

“We have these regulatory T cells [called T-reg cells], and we noticed a few years ago that these cells thrive in tumor microenvironments,” says Delgoffe. “They proliferate, and they are very, very potent suppressors of the anti-tumor immune response. With cancer, this is not a good thing.”

Delgoffe and his team discovered that by essentially starving the T-reg cells of the nutrients in the microenvironment that are helping them thrive (one example is lactic acid), they were able to shrink tumors and increase sensitivity to immunotherapy drugs in mice.

“If we want to fully mobilize the immune system against cancer cells, we are going to have to figure out how to feed the right types of cells and starve the cells that may be working against that therapy.”   —CF