Scientists in Australia have discovered how to “turbocharge” the immune system to help in the fight against cancer by inhibiting the biological activities of a protein and curbing the tumor growth.


Before the onset of the disease, natural killer (NK) cells, which are key to immunity, are attacked and blocked by the protein activin-A, thereby giving room for the growth of tumours that eventually cause cancer.

The protein, which is found in both healthy and harmful human cells, proceeds on this by reducing the production of the enzyme granzyme usually released by NK cells to trigger self-destruction in cancer tumours.

However, a study which was published on Science Signaling and carried out at the University of Queensland and Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute has shown that follistatin, a naturally-occurring hormone, inhibited activin-A in both human and mouse NK cells.


This comes as previous research has also linked activin-A to ‘malignant cellular reprogramming’ in breast and ovarian cancer and a poor chance of recovery in the case of lung cancer.

“Follistatin — which has been associated with muscle mass and strength — can then be stimulated and deployed to inhibit the biological activities of activin-A and block cancer cells growth in the long run,” the researchers wrote.

Nicholas Huntington, an author of the study, said the findings would pave way for the creation of new drugs that provide a “deeper and more durable way to overcome immune system suppression” which often ensues before the onset of cancers.


“These findings may open the door to novel immune-therapy drugs. These provide a deeper and more durable way to overcome the immune suppression seen in cancer, improving patient outcome,” he said.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and is estimated to account for 9.6 million death in 2018

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