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Blood cells can be 'weaponized' to break up tumors, study shows

By
Ryan Maass
Researchers say they found that macrophages can be used to drill into tumors in the body. Photo by the U.S. National Institutes of Health
Researchers say they found that macrophages can be used to "drill" into tumors in the body. Photo by the U.S. National Institutes of Health

LA JOLLA, Calif., Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Scientists have devised a potential new method for restricting tumor growth, using immune system cells known as macrophages.

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, investigators led by The Scripps Research Institute identified how macrophages can "drill" through tumors to create new pathways for transporting oxygen and other nutrients.

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Macrophages are a type of white blood cell responsible for consuming cellular debris and other foreign substances to support immune system responses. According to the research team, they can also be weaponized against potentially cancerous agents.

"This may represent a whole new therapeutic target for treating tumors," senior author Martin Friedlander said in a press release.

Previous studies have shown cell types are capable of creating blood vessel-like structures in tumors in a phenomenon known as vascular mimicry. In the Scripps study, researchers say they have confirmed macrophages are responsible for this response, and are capable of breaking through solid tumors, including glioblastoma. The phenomenon was observed using a mouse model.

Despite their similarities with vessels, the authors note that the structures created by macrophages have important differences, including the ability to form in low-oxygen settings.

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"These conduits have an architecture distinct from that of traditional blood vessels," co-author Faith H. Barnett explained.

Researchers say their findings explain how certain anti-cancer drugs don't work as they are expected to, and may provide new opportunities for therapeutic interventions. The authors are calling for future studies to explore the impacts of macrophages on age-related diseases.

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