A team led by Dr David Finlay, Ussher assistant professor in Immunometabolism in Trinity, gained new insights in the metabolism of Natural Killer (NK) cells, which target cancer. The study showed that drugs designed to kill tumours do not inhibit the function of NK cells.
The new study found that glutamine, an amino acid commonly used by cancer cells, is not used by NK cells to generate energy. NK cells directly kill tumour cells, which are instrumental in the development of cancer. When activated, NK cells metabolise to produce more energy, which boosts its function.
The paper, which was published in scientific journal Nature Communications, open doors in the understanding of cancer therapy. It was unclear whether or not anti-cancer drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies impeded NK cell function, until now.
However, the scientists cannot rule out entirely the importance of glutamine in the fight against cancer. They also discovered that glutamine acts as a signal, turning on a switch called cMyc, allowing NK cells to metabolise and produce energy even quicker. This has implications in the development of cancer-targeting drugs, with Dr Finlay saying: “We actually think that these drugs might boost the anti-tumour actions of NK cells by turning on cMyc, as well as by shutting down the metabolic machinery in tumour cells.”