The Italian Almanac


Italian Science - September 20

Italian researchers have identified a group of healthy blood cells that help cancers grow. The find represents a step forward in cancer research because healthy blood cells were believed only to act - however ineffectually - in seeking to nip tumours in the bid. Now that this new group of 'traitor' cells has been found, it should be theoretically possible to kill them off. This could add a new tool to the limited armoury of anti-cancer techniques.

In the current edition of Cancer Cell, the Italian team published the results of a study of spontaneous pancreatic and brain tumours in mice. If the results are replicated in humans, the researchers say, the cells could be targeted by gene therapy.

"Until now, it was thought that healthy cells in the blood and immune system, attracted to tumours, had the sole purpose of trying to stop them from growing," said a team from Milan's San Raffaele Institute. "But now we have seen that tumours depend on the healthy blood vessels around them to develop."

The group of white blood cells identified by the San Raffaele Team has been dubbed TEM, from the name of a receptor that helps them act. Clinical applications of the discovery will take years to develop, the researchers cautioned.